With his victory in the WRC Rally Finland almost certain, Elfyn Evans could have taken a step down on the third day of the final Power Stage. But the Toyota driver stayed in attack mode until the end and made one last breathtaking effort to get the bonus points and rekindle the World Rally Championship title fight.
Welshman Evans started the final stage of the fastest WRC race on Sunday with a lead of 9.1 seconds over Ott Tanak from Hyundai – not a gap to play it safe on the last four special stages and 28.42 competition miles, but enough to maybe cool it off shortly after the insanely fast duel with the Estonian on Saturday.
Instead, Evans came out of the fight and set the fastest time in his Yaris WRC on two of the day’s tests, including the bonus point Power Stage. Tanak set the other two fastest times, but Evans’ championship over two runs of the 6.9-mile, jump-filled Ruuhimaki stage increased his final profit margin to 14.1 seconds.
“That was pretty good and certainly the way we did it,” said Evans of his fifth WRC rally victory and his first at the Jyväskylä-based classic. “We found confidence early on, got into a rhythm and took on the Hyundai boys on Saturday.”
Tanak’s second place earned the Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC along with a third place for his teammate and leader on day one, Craig Breen, getting its first podium finishes at Rally Finland. But Evans’ win continues Toyota’s 100 percent win record at the Finnish Grand Prix since his 2017 WRC return.
“It was great fun,” said Tanak. “We didn’t want to catch up with Elfyn just driving, but overall it was a positive rally. I think the hardest part was that we didn’t have the pace here with Hyundai, so we had to make an effort. We missed a lot, but we’ll come back stronger next time. “
Evans’ 30 point win (25 for overall win and 5 for Power Stage win) breathes new life into a championship fight that was almost over with the way to Finland.
Evans’ team-mate, seven-time reigning WRC champion Sebastien Ogier, could have achieved a strong result on the flowing forest gravel. However, the Frenchman rarely felt comfortable with the handling of his Yaris WRC. After an engine problem in the last test, he ended up fifth overall and outside the Power Stage bonus points. This means that Evans is only 24 points behind Ogier, with a maximum of 60 points from the two remaining laps.
“The engine just stopped and the power isn’t there either,” said a frustrated Ogier, explaining his problems with the power stage. “It wasn’t the best rally, but it’s part of the game. I’m really looking forward to some asphalt (at the upcoming Catalunya Rally), real races, and not this street cleaning.
Bree’s third place, 42.2 seconds behind the winner, meant no Finnish rider landed on the podium – a national tragedy for a country that lives and breathes the sport. The pace of the Irishman’s first day didn’t quite hold up through the weekend, but it’s now three podiums in his last three outings on a limited program with Hyundai.
“It’s a proud moment, three podiums in a row,” said Breen. I can’t believe it to be honest. I would have liked to have reached an additional level and fought for victory. It’s not there yet, but it’s so much better than in the past. “
Behind Breen, Esapekka Lappi saved some home pride by finishing fourth in a privately entered Yaris WRC. His first WRC outing since the end of last season offered a glimpse of what the 2017 Rally Finland winner has to offer, but EP was never close to the frantic battle at the top, finishing 58.8 seconds behind ultimate pace. Still, it was better than nothing for the super power of rallying as Heimheld and pre-event favorite Kalle Rovanpera crashed his factory Yaris on day two.
Behind Ogier, the M-Sport Ford duo Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux finished sixth and seventh, but clearly behind the ultimate pace. Since the WRC will be out with brand new hybrid cars next year and M-Sport may offer the opportunity to compete on an equal footing with Toyota and Hyundai, both drivers rated the experience on the Finnish gravel as positive from the weekend.
In WRC2, the second division of international rallying, the Finn Teemu Suninen extended his lead over second-placed Mads Ostberg to 15.7 seconds at the finish. Suninens Golf GTi suffered a radiator problem on Saturday afternoon, but showed no negative effects on the final lap on Sunday.
The result was a disappointment for Citroen C3 driver Ostberg, but it closed the gap to the WRC front runner and Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen, who skipped Finland as one of his maximum seven events allowed under the WRC2 rules.
“First of all, we have to be happy that we crossed the finish line at the end of the rally and in Finland,” said Ostberg. “With this car that we are learning, it was a good result. We were pretty competitive, but with Teemu’s speed it wasn’t in our hands today. “
The WRC is now traveling to Spain for its penultimate round on the asphalt of the Catalunya Rally from October 14th to 17th, before concluding the season with the Italian asphalt / gravel rally Monza from November 19th to 21st.
WRC Rally Finland, final positions after day 3, SS19
1 Elfyn Evans / Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2h19m13.7s
2 Ott Tanak / Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) + 14.1s
3 Craig Breen / Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +42.2 p
4 Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 58.8s
5 Sebastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2 minutes 54.4 seconds
6 Gus Greensmith / Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC) + 5m02.3s
7 Adrien Fourmaux / Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC) + 6m22.9s
8 Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula (Volkswagen Polo GTi) + 9m52.1s
9 Mads Ostberg / Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3) + 10m07.8s
10 Emil Lindholm / Reeta Hamalainen (Skoda Fabia Evo) + 10m52.8s
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