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Special feature

WRC Finland: Five things you may have missed

Finland will forever be the World Rally Championship’s spiritual home and once again the nation’s passion was on show as Elfyn Evans entered the history books with a memorable second win. Here’s what you may have missed from Finland

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 after the crash

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

1. Rovanpera crashes out but still leaves impact on rally

Kalle Rovanpera crashing out of a rally lead and completely retiring from an event is a rare collector's item. In fact, last weekend's shock Rally Finland exit was only his third retirement in 41 top-flight WRC starts.

It was just unfortunate his first full retirement since Croatia 2021 came in front of thousands of passionate fans desperate for one of their own to end a six-year drought for a homegrown winner.

 

Rovanpera admitted he was surprised by what he labelled a "stupid crash" as he hadn't engaged "full send" mode, and was seeming operating within himself to lead Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans by 5.7s after reeling off five consecutive stage wins. The retirement has however breathed life into the title race after Evans took maximum points to cut the Finnish lead to 25 points.

While chassis damage to his rolled GR Yaris in stage eight put him out of the rally on Friday, he still had an impact on the result.

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

The Finn played a role in helping his team-mate and close friend Takamoto Katsuta claim a fourth career WRC podium and his first at a European rally. After a confidence denting run in Estonia, Katsuta asked Rovanpera for some driving tips and the 22-year-old duly obliged offering him an opportunity to sit alongside him during a pre-event test.

Katsuta emerged from an intense fight with Hyundai's Teemu Suninen to claim the final podium, which he felt was partly down to Rovanpera's advice.

Podium: Winners Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Podium: Winners Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

2. Toyota's unique job swap and long-term commitment to the WRC

It's not often the boss of a major car maker takes on the role of team principal for one of its motorsport teams, but Akio Toyoda is not your average automobile chairman.

A self-confessed motorsport and rally fan, Toyoda replaced Jari-Matti Latvala as team principal for Toyota's home WRC round to allow the latter to indulge in a one-off WRC return in a fourth GR Yaris.

While Latvala tackled some of his favourite stages, Toyoda was charged to oversee the team, waking up at the crack of dawn for morning service, conducting media interviews and of course fulfilling, as he put it, the team's "cheerleader" role.

Toyoda, who claimed prior to the rally that "he loves the WRC like a kid loves ice cream" is the very reason Toyota came back to the WRC in 2017. This commitment was reaffirmed over the weekend with Toyoda confirming the brand plans to compete in the WRC for the foreseeable future, backed up by revealing a project to build a new WRC development centre in Finland.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

While Evans and Scott Martin claimed victory, the biggest smiles belonged to Toyoda and Latvala, two die-hard rally fans enjoying the category they love.

"It is a fantastic result, first, third and fifth. As a principal, I'm very honoured to be with the drivers but all I can smell is champagne, I'm almost drunk here," said Toyoda in the post-event press conference.

Asked about returning to the role in the future, he added: "If I say yes they will always request me to do it and Jari-Matti will always want to participate [drive]." 

 

Three-time Finland winner Latvala came home in fifth, last of the Rally1 runners, but proved his class by taking a point on the final Power Stage.

"Thank you to Akio and the team for giving me this great opportunity. It's been something really phenomenal that I will remember for the rest of my life," said Latvala.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

3. Neuville breaks 10-year Rally Finland drought

High-speed gravel rallies are not among Thierry Neuville's favourite events, but the result sheet now begs to differ after scoring back-to-back second-place finishes in Estonia and Finland.

Neuville's improvement in these conditions this year compared to 12 months ago is significant. Last year the Belgian could only finish fifth in Finland, 2m18s behind winner and then team-mate Ott Tanak.

This year the Hyundai driver claimed three stage wins on the way to finishing second, 39.1s behind winner Evans. It was his first podium in Finland since 2013 which again highlighted his struggles on the rollercoaster Finnish roads.

While he admitted these events are still not his favourites, Neuville welcomed his much stronger showing in the conditions.

"It is good to be back on the podium," said Neuville. "For sure, the last couple of years over here have been a real struggle for me, but generally for Hyundai as well it has always been difficult.

"We had good pace all weekend and it was not like were off but we were not the fastest clearly. I'm happy with the way we are improving. We have improved quite a lot."

Hyundai still has work to do to close the gap to Toyota in these fast gravel rallies, but the decision to secure a regular testing base in Finland is paying dividends.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

4. Lappi's lucky escape, Suninen's save of the season

Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi headed to Finland among the challengers for victory but his rally ended when he and co-driver Janne Ferm were fortunate to avoid serious injury.

Lappi had struggled to match the Toyotas in the wet conditions on Friday morning before it all came undone in frightening fashion on stage five (Halttula). An optimistic pacenote resulted in the Finnish duo heading into the trees at speed, writing off their i20 N for the weekend.

 

Luckily Lappi only suffered swollen ankle while Ferm underwent an X-ray in hospital as a precaution.

While Lappi was unable to wrestle his i20 N away from disaster, team-mate Teemu Suninen produced one of the saves of the season. Having inherited fourth from Lappi he was lucky not to throw it away on stage 20 when he ran wide into a ditch.

 

"I knew there was space [there to run wide]," he said cooly when asked about the wild moment. "I just tried to keep going and that's all I can do now."

Suninen has previous in the Rally Finland saves department, having recovered from this wild moment in 2018 driving for M-Sport.

 
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

5. M-Sport boss hits back at keyboard warriors after double heartbreak

The human element in sport can often be quickly forgotten by fans when misfortune transpires.

M-Sport has endured a rough run of fortune this season since Ott Tanak's victory in Sweden back in February, and this challenging run of form continued in Finland.

The British squad's rally was effectively over on stage three following a double retirement for Tanak and Pierre-Louis Loubet, both incidents happening within minutes of each other. Bedrock pierced a hole in Tanak's engine, coming off the back of an engine failure in Estonia, that ended his rally on Friday.

Loubet clipped a rock and ripped his left rear suspension from his Puma that put him out until Saturday.

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team area

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team area

Photo by: M-Sport

For the entire team, of which the majority had not returned home since Estonia, it was heartbreak to see their hard work count for nothing. A point M-Sport team principal Rich Millener was keen to address in the wake of criticism being directed at the team on social media.

"It's pretty challenging at the moment for us all, and these guys have been out here for three weeks," said Millener. "They've not gone home since Estonia. So for them to put all this effort in and for us to be where we are, it's really sad for everyone

"It's a very different kind of atmosphere inside the teams where they understand what's happening, versus what the fans see. There are two quite different sides to the story.

"Obviously there's been some fair criticism against us, there's some unfair criticism against us so far this year.

"All I would say is the people that write these comments need to remember there are also 50 people working very, very hard to do this. So it's very easy to type on the old keyboards, but just remember about the other people here."

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