Tanak soaks up Rovanpera pressure to win WRC Rally Finland

Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Tanak soaks up Rovanpera pressure to win WRC Rally Finland

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Tanak soaks up Rovanpera pressure to win WRC Rally Finland

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Ott Tanak secured Rally Finland victory on Sunday afternoon with a near-perfect drive under pressure from a charging Kalle Rovanpera.

The win gives Hyundai Motorsport its first ever triumph in the FIA World Rally Championship’s fastest event.

Tanak led from the second stage of the Jyvaskyla-based event to finish 6.8s clear of Toyota GR Yaris rival and runaway WRC points leader Rovanpera. It was his third win on Finland’s famous “Gravel Grand Prix,” the first two coming with Toyota in 2018 and ’19.

The Estonian ace found it difficult to be comfortable in his Hyundai i20 N from the get-go, but opted for a “no risk, no reward” approach from the opening stage. In what might be the WRC’s drive of the season, he was able to produce top times throughout three intense legs of high-speed competition, pushing to the limit and sometimes beyond, yet without making the small error/big consequence mistakes that frequently result in rally-ending crashes on the tree-lined, jump-filled gravel stages of central Finland.

As Friday’s first car on the road, Rovanpera was slow out of the blocks as his Yaris played unwitting gravel sweeper for the cars behind. But in a better starting position for Saturday’s second leg, the 21-year-old Finn reeled off five fastest times on the wet-then-dry stages to climb from fourth to second overall. He ended the penultimate day only 8.4s behind Tanak after slicing the deficit in the unpredictable conditions.

Dry conditions ensured further fast-paced action in Sunday’s closing leg, but Tanak was in no mood to relinquish his hard-earned lead. He gave just 1.8s away to Rovanpera over the day’s four stages and stood on top of the WRC podium for the first time since Rally Italy Sardinia in June.

Tanak hits a new high. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

“The Toyota guys gave me some help on Friday at the beginning,” said Tanak, “and since then we saw a chance – some light at the end of the tunnel – and we were pushing from there.

“This morning I was still not confident, but for me the first stage was crucial and there I pushed hard and we managed actually to take some time. After this, it was just about managing. I can’t say it’s really my best performance by driving, but [it’s] definitely the best win I’ve ever had.

“All I want to say in these difficult times is that it’s really all down to my wife. She has been supporting me so much and I’m really proud of her. I love you so much,” he added, facing the TV cameras.

Rovanpera virtually ruled himself out of a first home victory after Sunday morning’s first pass of the Ruuhimaki stage, where he and Tanak posted identical times. With a solid haul of points in the bag, the Toyota driver was unwilling to take any unnecessary risks.

He still stretched his championship points lead to 94 after eight of 13 rounds, with a maximum of 150 still up for grabs, while Jyvaskyla-based Toyota Gazoo Racing ended 88 points clear in the WRC manufacturers’ standings with three of its Yaris cars in the top four.

No home win for Rovanpera but another big points lift. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Another Finn, Esapekka Lappi, completed the podium 1m13.9s behind runner-up Rovanpera, but was lucky to even see the finish after rolling on the penultimate stage. He used epoxy resin to patch a crack in his Toyota’s radiator ahead of the final stage and powered through with no front windshield.

Elfyn Evans was 16.9s behind in his Yaris after conceding time on Saturday afternoon with rear-end damage. Like teammate Lappi, the Welshman also had to get creative to stay in the game, channeling his inner MacGyver to stabilize the damaged rear suspension using ratchet straps and jubilee clips.

Beyond the top four positions, it wasn’t Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville’s weekend. Setup frustrations plagued the Belgian and he was never in a position to fight with the leading quartet. At the close, he trailed Evans by 40.4s in fifth overall and slipped to third in the WRC standings behind Tanak.

A frustrating weekend for Neuville cost him a spot in the points table to his high-flying Hyundai stablemate. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta ended 51.0s further back to head Gus Greensmith, who was M-Sport Ford’s leading Puma Rally1 driver in seventh overall. Greensmith had scrapped with teammate Pierre-Louis Loubet for most of the event, but the Frenchman retired with mechanical issues before the final stage.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Teemu Suninen scored his first victory of the season with success on home gravel. The Hyundai i20 N Rally2 driver grabbed the lead on Friday morning’s first gravel stage and held it to the end, despite an intense rally-long battle with fellow Finn Emil Lindholm.

Suninen built up his biggest lead during Friday’s opening leg, winning seven out of nine stages. But a small scare on Saturday morning, when the Hyundai briefly lost power, almost allowed Lindholm’s Skoda Fabia Evo to take over at the top.

After that, the pair remained very evenly matched for the remainder of the weekend, with Suninen finishing 7.7s ahead of Lindholm.

Suninen shook off a mechanical glitch to take the bows in WRC2. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Next up, the WRC switches from gravel to asphalt in less than two weeks when Belgium’s Ypres Rally makes its second WRC appearance, Aug. 18-21.

WRC Rally Finland, final positions after Day Three, SS22
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 2h24m04.6s
2 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +6.8s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m20.7s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m37.6s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m18.0s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3m09.0s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +3m57.0s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N Rally2 – WRC2 winner) +9m31.3s
9 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hamalainen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +9m39.0s

10 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +10m31.6s

WRC Drivers’ Championship after 8 rounds
1
Rovanpera 198 points
2 Tanak 104
3 Neuville 103
4 Evan 94
5 Katsuta 81

WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 8 rounds
1
Toyota Gazoo Racing 339 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 251
3 M-Sport Ford 174
4 TGR Next Generation 89

Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.

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