Finland WRC: Evans boosts title hopes with famous victory
Elfyn Evans boosted his World Rally Championship title hopes by claiming a famous victory in the 70th anniversary edition of Rally Finland after a pressure-filled head-to-head with Ott Tanak.
The Toyota driver held his nerve across the final two stages despite coming under severe pressure from Hyundai’s Tanak to become only the second British driver to conquer Rally Finland following Kris Meeke’s win in 2016.
Evans’ run to victory was ignited by winning Friday’s night stage to end the day third and 6.1s adrift of Hyundai’s Craig Breen and Ott Tanak, before rattling off four consecutive stage wins on Saturday morning to claim the rally lead.
Tanak put the Welshman under relentless pressure on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning as an intense fully committed fight for victory ensued. But it was not enough to deny Evans and co-driver Scott Martin a memorable win by 14.1s from Tanak in the last gravel event for the current generation cars.
Friday’s overnight leader Breen saw his victory hopes fade on Saturday, but the Irishman impressed throughout to scored his third consecutive WRC podium in third, 42.2s adrift of Evans.
A subdued championship leader Sebastien Ogier struggled with set-up until Saturday afternoon but the damage had been done, leaving him fifth overall. The Frenchman came home behind the Finnish Toyota wildcard runner Esapekka Lappi, who turned heads on his WRC return after 10 months on the sidelines.
With Ogier down in fifth, Evans slashed his championship advantage to 24 after taking the full bonus points with a Power Stage victory. It will now be a two-driver title fight after Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville’s title hopes vanished when a water leak forced him into retirement on Saturday night.
The M-Sport Ford duo of Gus Greensmith and Adrien Fourmaux, competing in his first WRC start in Finland and with a new co-driver in Alexandre Coria, finished sixth and seventh respectively.
Pre-event favourite Kalle Rovanpera was in the podium battle until Saturday morning when the highly-rated Finn crashed out on Stage 10. He returned on Sunday but damage to his car and a sore back prevented him from driving at full speed. The latter forced him to sit out the Power Stage.
Likewise, Takamoto Katsuta, partnered with new co-driver Aaron Johnston, returned to action in the remaining Toyota on Sunday after clipping a tree in a high-speed crash on Saturday’s Stage 8.
The final two stages of the rally on Sunday began with Evans asserting his authority at the front once again having fended off an early threat from Tanak in the opening loop of stages.
Evans claimed his ninth stage win of the rally as he transformed a 0.7s deficit at the start of the stage to a 0.2s margin over Tanak.
Lappi’s strong finish to the rally continued with a third fastest stage time ahead of Breen, Ogier and Katsuta.
Evans completed the victory in style by winning the final Power Stage, taking the five bonus points in the process to inflict the most pain on championship leader Ogier.
Evans claimed the stage win by 1.7s from Tanak, with Lappi ending his strong run in third.
Ogier’s hopes of limiting the damage in the title race to Evans was dealt a blow when a surprise drop in power from his Toyota resulted in him finishing the stage in sixth and outside of the bonus points.
"I don't know, the engine just stopped and I think power is also not here,” said Ogier. “It was not the best one, but it's part of the game. I am looking forward to asphalt so much now."
Fourmaux again raised eyebrows as he landed a spectacular 68m jump at the flying finish to better his mammoth jump from the previous attempt earlier this morning.
In WRC2, M-Sport WRC refugee Teemu Suninen gave the home crowd something to cheer by winning the class in his Volkswagen. He took the win by 15.7s from Mads Ostberg.
The WRC heads to tarmac of Spain for the penultimate round of the championship from 14-17 October.
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