With his WRC Rally Finland win virtually assured, Elfyn Evans could have backed it down a notch on day three’s closing Power Stage. But staying in attack mode until the end, the Toyota driver laid down a final stunning effort to grab the bonus points and reignite the World Rally Championship title fight.
Welshman Evans had started Sunday’s final leg of the WRC’s fastest event with a 9.1s lead over Hyundai’s Ott Tanak — not a gap for playing it safe on the final four special stages and 28.42 competitive miles, but enough perhaps to cool it just a little after Saturday’s crazy-fast duel with the Estonian.
Instead, Evans came out fighting, earning fastest time in his Yaris WRC on two of the day’s tests, including the bonus points-paying Power Stage. Tanak took the other two fastest times, but Evans’ mastery over two runs of the 6.9-mile, jump-filled Ruuhimaki stage increased his final winning margin to 14.1s.
“That was pretty good, and certainly in the way we managed to do it,” said Evans of his fifth WRC rally win, and his first on the Jyvaskyla-based classic. “We found some confidence early on, got into a rhythm, and took on the Hyundai boys on Saturday.”
Tanak’s second-place finish, along with a third place for teammate and day one leader Craig Breen, delivered the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC its first Rally Finland podiums. But Evans’ win continues Toyota’s 100-percent winning record on the “Finnish Grand Prix” since its 2017 WRC return.
“It’s been great fun,” said Tanak. “We weren’t going to catch Elfyn on pure driving, but it was a positive rally overall. I think the most difficult thing was with Hyundai we had no pace coming here, so we had to try hard. We missed some things, but next time we’ll come back stronger.”
Evans’ haul of 30 points (25 for the overall victory and 5 for the Power Stage win) breathes new life into a championship battle that had looked almost over and done with heading to Finland.
A strong result on the flowing forest gravel could have clinched it for Evans’ teammate, seven-time and reigning WRC champ Sebastien Ogier. But the Frenchman rarely felt comfortable with his Yaris WRC’s handling, finishing fifth overall and outside of the Power Stage bonus points after an engine issue on the final test. That leaves Evans just 24 points behind Ogier, with a maximum of 60 points on offer from the two remaining rounds.
“The engine just stopped and power is also not there,” a frustrated Ogier explained of his Power Stage problems. “It was not the best rally, but it’s part of the game. I’m really looking forward to some asphalt now (on the upcoming Rally Catalunya), some real racing and not this road cleaning s***.”
Breen’s third place, 42.2s behind the winner, meant no Finnish drivers would finish on the podium — a national tragedy for a country that lives and breathes the sport. The Irishman’s first day pace didn’t quite carry through the weekend, but it’s now three podiums in his last three outings of 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’d have loved to have gone that extra level and fought for the win. It’s not there yet, but it’s so much better than it’s been in the past.”
Behind Breen, Esapekka Lappi salvaged some home pride with fourth in a privately-entered Yaris WRC. His first WRC outing since last year’s season closer offered glimpses of what the 2017 Rally Finland winner can deliver, but “EP” was never close to the frenetic fight at the front, finishing 58.8s off the ultimate pace. Still, with home hero and pre-event favorite Kalle Rovanpera crashing his factory Yaris on day two, it was better than nothing for rallying’s superpower.
Behind Ogier, M-Sport Ford’s duo of Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux finished sixth and seventh respectively, but hugely off the ultimate pace. With next year’s WRC running all-new hybrid cars and perhaps providing M-Sport an opportunity to compete on a more equal footing with Toyota and Hyundai, both drivers took the experience gained on the Finnish gravel as a positive from the weekend.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Finland’s Teemu Suninen extended his lead over second-placed Mads Ostberg to 15.7s at the finish. Suninen’s Golf GTi had suffered a radiator issue on Saturday afternoon, but showed no ill effects on Sunday’s final loop.
For Citroen C3 driver Ostberg, the result was a disappointment, but did close the gap to WRC points leader and fellow Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen, who skipped Finland as one of his maximum seven events allowed under WRC2 rules.
“First of all, we just need to be happy that we’re at the end of the rally and we finished in Finland,” said Ostberg. “With this car, learning as we go, it was a good result. We were fairly competitive, but it was out of our hands today with Teemu’s speed.”
The WRC now heads to Spain for its penultimate round on the asphalt of Rally Catalunya, Oct.14-17, before closing the season with Italy’s asphalt/gravel Rally Monza, Nov. 19-21.
WRC Rally Finland, final positions after Day Three, 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) +42.2s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +58.8s
5 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m54.4s
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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