Elfyn Evans led the way from start to end in FIA WRC Rally Finland win from Thierry Neuville and Takamoto Katsuta.
Elfyn Evans was catapulted into the lead of Secto Rally Finland when team-mate Kalle Rovanperä’s golden streak came to an abrupt halt during Friday’s opening leg. Home hero Rovanperä, who carried a commanding 55-point lead into this ninth FIA World Rally Championship round, reeled off five consecutive benchmark times in a Toyota GR Yaris and headed chasing colleague Evans by 5.7sec approaching the day’s seventh stage in Myhinpää.
But a rare mistake 11.1km after the start brought a disastrous end to the defending world champion’s day when he lost control of his GR Yaris and rolled end-over-end. Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen emerged from the wreckage unscathed despite the force of the impact being strong enough to tear a rear wheel from the car.
Evans, currently second in the points, inherited the top spot from his stranded team-mate and negotiated the remaining two stages error-free to head Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville by a mere 6.9sec overnight. Mistakes were punished brutally on central Finland’s superfast gravel roads and Rovanperä wasn’t the only victory contender to come unstuck. His Hyundai-driving compatriot Esapekka Lappi crashed into a tree in SS4 whilst running fourth overall.
Ott Tänak, leader after Thursday’s evening’s super special stage in Jyväskylä city centre, retired his Puma in SS3 with terminal engine failure and his M-Sport Ford partner Pierre-Louis Loubet crashed in the same test. Neuville’s day wasn’t without drama, either. The Belgian reported a lack of rear traction early in the day and struggled for visibility under scattered rain showers on multiple occasions. He headed Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta, who won the opening stage, by 9.5sec at close of play.
In fourth overall and within reaching distance of the podium was Teemu Suninen. The Finn is contesting his second rally aboard an i20 N Rally1 and trailed Katsuta by 12.4sec after building his speed throughout the day. Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala rounded out the top five on his first WRC start since 2020. Behind him was Jari Huttunen, who led WRC2 in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 after leapfrogging Sami Pajari when the youngster suffered tyre damage in the penultimate stage.
Elfyn Evans made major strides towards his second Secto Rally Finland triumph with a masterful attack through Saturday’s penultimate leg. He was fastest on seven out of eight gravel road stages in the lightning-fast Finnish forests to transform what started as a 6.9sec buffer into a commanding 32.1sec stronghold in a Toyota GR Yaris, leaving Hyundai i20 N rival Thierry Neuville trailing in his wake.
Rain showers early in the day played to the Welshman’s favour and, while Neuville grappled with wheel spin in the wet conditions, Evans excelled. He was equally at home in the repeated afternoon loop where the drying gravel roads became increasingly rutted.
With championship leader Kalle Rovanperä already sidelined by a crash on Friday, victory at this ninth WRC round is essential for Evans – currently second in the points – to keep his fading title hopes alive. He was delighted with his performance on a demanding day that contained more than half the rally’s competitive distance.
Although Neuville struggled to get his i20’s set-up completely dialled in with the changeable conditions, the Belgian was consistently quicker than the remainder of the field. Toyota man Takamoto Katsuta, his closest challenger, lagged almost one minute behind. Katsuta dropped behind Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen after spinning in Päijälä but reclaimed the final podium spot in SS15. He yielded the position again in the following test but surged back in front by posting a benchmark time through the Vekkula finale. The pair were split by 6.4sec at close of play.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala was fifth, two minutes further back. The 38-year-old, who is making his first WRC start since February 2020, overshot a junction in SS17 but relished the chance to drive on his home roads. Oliver Solberg is not registered to score WRC2 points this week but climbed to sixth overall in a Fabia RS Rally2. He headed Sami Pajari, the category leader, by 12.5sec after Jari Huttunen retired his similar Škoda with a technical issue in the afternoon.
Elfyn Evans stormed to victory at Secto Rally Finland on Sunday afternoon to keep alive his chances of fighting for this year’s FIA World Rally Championship title. A dramatic crash for WRC-leading team-mate Kalle Rovanperä propelled Evans into the lead on Friday afternoon and the Welshman reeled off a stunning seven back-to-back stage wins on Saturday to leave closest challenger Thierry Neuville trailing in his wake.
He extended the buffer further on Sunday to triumph by 39.1sec in a Toyota GR Yaris and with maximum points for winning the closing Wolf Power Stage, Evans slashed Rovanperä’s points advantage from 55 to 25 with four rounds remaining. Evans’ Toyota Gazoo Racing team is based near the host city of Jyväskylä and victory extended its manufacturers’ championship lead over Hyundai Motorsport to 67 points.
Changeable conditions provided furious action on the season’s fastest roads with early challengers Ott Tänak and Esapekka Lappi both joining Rovanperä on Friday’s list of retirements. Engine failure sidelined Tänak’s M-Sport Ford Puma while Lappi crashed his Hyundai into a tree.
Neuville enjoyed one of his strongest performances on Finland’s flat-out terrain but ultimately had no answer to Evans’ rapid pace. Remaining third in the championship after round nine, the Belgian finished with a hefty 57.6sec gap to the Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta behind.
Katsuta duelled relentlessly with Hyundai rival Teemu Suninen. The latter went all in, bravely opting to save weight by not carrying a spare wheel through the four-stage finale. But that still wasn’t enough to relegate Katsuta, who celebrated his fourth career podium and ended 4.3sec clear.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala made a popular return to top-level competition after more than three years away. The Finn was never really in the thick of the podium battle but consistency rewarded him with fifth. High attrition at the sharp end enabled Oliver Solberg, driving a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, to claim sixth overall ahead of WRC2 victor Sami Pajari. Eighth place went to WRC2 runner-up Adrien Fourmaux while Nikolay Gryazin and Andreas Mikkelsen completed the top 10.
Here’s WRC Rally Finland results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The story is as per press release]