World Rally Championship

Rally Report

Round 10

Epic win for Elfyn Evans of Toyota GR on their home ground.

Secto Automotive Rally Finland, established as a mid-summer event in the WRC calendar, had to be rescheduled to an October date two months after its regular timing due to the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide. The event took place over three days, from October 1st to 3rd. As the event itself was cancelled last year, even though there was a delay in the schedule, it was a very welcome return. Drivers also hailed this comeback. “Rally Finland is one of the key events in the WRC. It was a shame it was cancelled last year, so I am very pleased to see it run this year” (Esapekka Lappi, RTE Motorsport, private team which hired the Yaris from TOYOTA GAZOO Racing). “Cooler temperature and less heat from the sun means that it is physically easier for the drivers and there will be less dust on the road” (Kalle Rovanperä – TGR World Rally Team). With Rallye Monte-Carlo, Rally Finland is “one of the jewels in the WRC’s crown”. Compared with “Monte” fought over snow-covered mountain roads, Rally Finland is known for its high-speed stages run in the mid-summer, winding through lakes and conifer forests. With massive jumps exceeding 50 metres, an average speed over 130 km/h and a top speed of more than 200 km/h, this is truly a driver’s dream rally. In its 70th anniversary edition, and as the 10th out of 12 rounds on the calendar, Rally Finland became crucial in the fight for the championships.

Rally Finland is held around the town of Jyväskylä, located 200 km north of the Finnish capital, Helsinki. Jyväskylä is also home to TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team. Since Rally Japan was cancelled, “as our second home rally, we definitely want to win Rally Finland”, said Akio Toyoda, Team Founder and President of Toyota Motor Corporation, showing the team’s high morale. This is not surprising, given that after the previous event in Greece, Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier now leads the Drivers’ Championship with 180 points, followed by his teammate Elfyn Evans with 136 points, and they are closest to clinching the Drivers’ title. In the Manufacturers’ Championship, Toyota also leads with 397 points, separated by runner-up Hyundai Motorsport by 57 points. Thierry Neuville is the leading Hyundai driver in 3rd position (130 points), just 6 points behind Evans. Despite expectations, Ott Tänak, not on top form this season, stood in 5th position of the Drivers’ Championship and was looking to make a strong comeback in Finland.

Held for the first time in two years, Rally Finland ran with a more compact schedule this year. Even so, it still featured 19 Special Stages (SS) and 287.11 competitive kilometres. A night stage, running beyond sunset, was added on Friday. The Shakedown was only held in the daylight. Some drivers expressed concern as no one had ever experienced driving on a high-speed Finnish stage in the dark. The 70th Secto Automotive Rally Finland started its three-day battle in earnest on October 1st.

The rally started with two Hyundai drivers, Craig Breen and Ott Tänak, taking the lead in their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC. The situation changed drastically in the closing stage of Friday, run after sunset, as Toyota’s Evans showed his best performance and claimed a stage win. Evans managed to eclipse the other seasoned drivers by sheer speed, rose to third and closed up on the leading duo.

The highlight of the event was Saturday morning’s tests, where Evans’ momentum did not stop. He showed an outstanding form to win all four stages of the loop, to lead in the overall classification. At this point, Hyundai’s Breen and Tänak were still fighting for the win. As of Friday, the two Hyundai drivers were in the lead, and Evans was fifth overall. But with his stage wins on Saturday morning, Evans took the lead and managed to win the event over Hyundai’s Tänak by 14.1 seconds, followed by his teammate Breen. Sébastien Ogier finished fifth to claim valuable championship points.

With the second win of the season, Elfyn Evans has now a tally of 166 points, reducing his gap to championship leader Sébastien Ogier to 24 points. With two WRC rounds remaining, either Ogier or Evans can clinch the title.

Including Evans’ victory this year, TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team won all the Finnish events since 2017 when the team re-started competing in the WRC. Some people may say that being based in Jyväskylä, the team had a home advantage… but things are never that easy in the WRC. It must be the result of real talent and technological excellence.

As a wildcard Toyota entry, Esapekka Lappi held fourth with a brilliant performance which attracted a lot of praise. He is the driver who took the win for Toyota back in 2017. After being away from driving a World Rally Car in the past ten months, he showed his undiminished talent. M-Sport’s Ford Fiesta WRC finished sixth and seventh.

The next round of the WRC returns to Spain on October 14-17 for the penultimate event of the season, Rally RACC de España (Rally Spain). With a new all-asphalt itinerary, unlike the gravel stages of Finland, the tyre selection will prove crucial to winning this rally. The battle between teammates Ogier and Evans will be riveting. It will be challenging to keep our eyes off the stages. It’s not a case of enjoying eating jamón and drinking sherry wine!


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