WRC Finland: The Good, The Bad and an inspired Tanak

The World Rally Championship returned to rallying’s spiritual home in Finland where hoards of rally mad fans gathered to support their new home hero Kalle Rovanpera. While Rovanpera threw everything at trying to claim a home win, it was Hyundai’s Ott Tanak that delivered a stunning surprise win. Motorsport.com reviews the highs, lows, turning points, close calls and heartbreak from Rally Finland.

WRC Finland: The Good, The Bad and an inspired Tanak
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Top Performer - Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja

Victory in Finland driving inferior machinery against the might of Toyota on home soil, and the in-form Kalle Rovanpera, was something special. Hyundai's Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja were simply in a different league in Finland and rightfully deserve the top performer award.

The fact Tanak described this as his "best" and "most satisfying" win from a WRC career that has yielded 16 victories, goes someway in explaining what he achieved at this year's gravel grand prix.

The 2019 world champion had to wrestle an unpredictable i20 N through some the most revered and demanding roads on the WRC calendar, while fending off a fleet of Toyotas. Considering Tanak was beaten on similar roads by almost two minutes in Estonia, three weeks ago, added further gloss to a first win for Hyundai in Toyota's backyard of Jyvaskyla.

Tanak's drive was maximum attack from start to finish and reminiscent of a Colin McRae all or nothing approach, and it was the former that won through.

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The Estonian admitted to his hands shaking after runs through stages, showcasing the incredible commitment to haul the very best from his i20 N that his teammates Thierry Neuville and Oliver Solberg were unable to unlock. While openly admitting that Finland's roads are not among his favourite, Neuville finished more than two minutes adrift despite a trouble free run.

Tanak also showed his class by fending off two concerted attacks from Toyota. First, he stayed ahead of Esapekka Lappi, who closed to within 3.8s of the lead at the end of Friday. But this performance was bettered by holding off a charging Rovanpera across Saturday and Sunday to defeat the championship leader by 6.8s.

This victory will most definitely be a contender for drive of the season.

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Honourable mentions: Kalle Rovanpera, Jari Huttunen

Rovanpera faced a weight of expectation for his homecoming following a dominant start to the season that is highly likely to end with the 21-year-old becoming the youngest ever world champion.

However, Rovanpera thrived under the pressure and was boosted by the overwhelming support he received from the thousands of fans that lined the stages. Rovanpera threw everything at trying to score a win that he and the crowd craved yet didn't necessarily need given his commanding lead in the championship. In the end he came up only 6.8s short despite opening the roads, which left him 21.0s adrift on Friday.

Rovanpera claimed eight stage wins, including the power stage to showcase his commitment while providing plenty for his fans to cheer. This was a very controlled and mature drive as the Finn extended his championship lead to 94 points over Tanak, who has now jumped Neuville for second in the standings.

Jari Huttunen, Mikko Lukka, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Jari Huttunen, Mikko Lukka, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

M-Sport Rally1 debutant Jari Huttunen impressed many running as high as eighth before a fuel pressure problem robbed him of a head turning maiden result. The Finn didn't put a foot wrong and recovered to ninth to claim points on his top tier debut.

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Team of the Week: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota may not have clinched the victory everyone expected on its home soil after losing out to an inspired Tanak, but it did once again show its dominance. 

All four of its GR Yaris entries finished inside the top six to outline that it has built the current pacesetter in the Rally1 hybrid era. Rovanpera headed the fleet ahead of Esapekka Lappi, who showcased the strength and the resilience of the GR Yaris to bring a wounded car, that had rolled three times, to finish third. 

Elfyn Evans drove to a solid fourth despite a left rear suspension issue while Takamoto Katsuta finished a credible sixth to maintain his run of finishing every rally this year in the points.

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1 with the team

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1 with the team

Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Hyundai Motorsport certainly impressed and deserves plenty of credit in Finland to complete the rally without any reliability issues, but it appears that this shock win was more down to Tanak's brilliance than the i20 N being the catalyst for victory.

A glance at the stage winners board highlights Toyota's speed advantage, with the marque racking up 14 stage wins to Hyundai's seven. The only thorn in Toyota's side was Tanak, who spoiled the team's party.  

Moment of Heartbreak

Oliver Solberg's Rally Finland was over before it had barely begun when he crashed out on the first corner of Stage 2 on Friday. The Swede lost control of the rear of his i20 N through a medium speed left hander and ran wide into a ditch before rolling. The impact damaged the roll cage of his i20 N, spelling an early end to his rally.

 

An emotional Solberg was left devastated by the incident, but despite the tears and frustration he still made time to sign autographs for fans in the service park afterwards.

 


M-Sport's Craig Breen started the event in a promising fashion leading the Ford team's attack and was well entrenched in the top five when his hopes of a points finish evaporated on Stage 12.

The Irishman misjudged a crest resulting in an impact with a rock-filled grass bank that ripped the right rear wheel from his Puma.

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

While Toyota's Esapekka Lappi finished the rally third in bizarre circumstances, his victory hopes were ended by a freak incident with a rock on Stage 15. Incredibly, his GR Yaris flicked up a rock that cannoned off a tree and rebounded into the car's windscreen, causing multiple cracks right in the driver's eye-line.

Unable to clearly see where to position the car over the jumps, Lappi was forced to back off and fell out of the fight for the win.

"The last stage [on Saturday] was the worst with the low sun. It was like a mirror, the windscreen, and I needed to slow down many times," he said. "I just couldn't see anything."

Lucky Escapes

Kalle Rovanpera has ridden his luck at times this season but perhaps none more so than the two wild moments he survived in Finland.

Rovanpera ran wide into a ditch in Friday's final stage that made his co-driver Jonne Halttunen yelp in worry before Rovanpera laughed off the incident.

"It was a corner which I checked in the recce and I knew you could go wide, if you go wide," he said.

However the moment (below) was much more serious as Rovanpera somehow managed to continue after running off the road.

 

Esapekka Lappi's journey to third is possible one of the strangest in WRC history. The Finn, sitting comfortably in third, rolled his GR Yaris after getting caught in a rut on a tight left hander on the penultimate stage.

The car rolled three times before landing on its wheels with significant damage to the rear wing, windscreen, roof and radiator.

However, Lappi managed to re-fire the car and reached the stage end, losing only 18s in the process.

With power steering oil and fluid escaping from the car, a quick thinking Lappi picked up some water bottles at stage end, before driving to a nearby lake to gather more water to re-fill the radiator.

 

While stopped at the lake, Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm worked to fix the leaks and removed the broken windscreen, before heading to the final stage with the pair forced to wear goggles for protection.

The duo then completed the stage despite shedding part of the car's roof that required Ferm to shout the pace notes to his driver in order to navigate through the test, to secure third in the strangest of circumstances.

 

Top Tweets

WRC cars at full flight on Finland's fast and undulating gravel roads is a sight to behold. 

 

Tanak made sure he didn't receive a repeat of his Rally Estonia penalty for failing to wear a Pirelli brand podium cap, while Lappi and Ferm lapped up their podium after peering through goggles on the final stage.

 

The reaction upon hearing your teammate has lost only 18s after rolling his car three times.

 

Ever wondered what it is like to be a WRC co-driver at Rally Finland? 

 


Hot Shots

Podium: Winners Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1, second place Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, third place Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Podium: Winners Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1, second place Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, third place Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Esapekka Lappi, Janne Ferm, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1 with the team

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1 with the team

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

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