Elfyn Evans is back in the World Rally Championship title fight after he added the Power Stage win to his accomplished Rally Finland victory earlier today (Sunday).
Evans' second triumph in Finland and his first since the Croatia Rally in April was never really in doubt after he reached Saturday's overnight leading by 32.1s.
While he could have been forgiven for switching to cruise control mode, he was fastest on the first and third stages of the deciding leg before he topped the order on the Power Stage.
The 25 points he bagged for the event win and the five he scored for going quickest on the Power Stage means he heads to next month's Acropolis Rally in Greece 25 points behind Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanpera. He was seemingly out of the title hunt, such was Rovanpera's dominance of the previous round in Estonia.
“It's been a pretty good weekend,” said Evans. “Obviously we're sorry for our team-mates but it's been really fantastic to drive this car and a joy to be behind the wheel this weekend. It's been a fantastic atmosphere and great to have everyone behind us. It's a second home rally for the team with factory based here. Of course for the championship it's not bad because we've closed the gap.”
Evans moved in front at the completion of stage seven on Friday when a rare error from world champion Rovanpera sent the home hero off the road and out of the rally and Evans into a lead he wouldn't relinquish, despite Thierry Neuville's best efforts on Friday afternoon.
But an accomplished performance from Welshman Evans on Saturday netted seven stage wins that he was able to convert into an outright winning margin of 39.1s over Hyundai driver Neuville on Sunday afternoon, the seventh victory of his topflight career.
Neuville's podium was his second on the bounce, while Takamoto Katsuta denied Finn Teemu Suninen third place and a much needed top-three result of his own after a run of poor form from the Japanese Toyota development driver.
“It is a big relief to be back on the Rally Finland podium after 10 years of what I would say was a struggle,” said Belgian Neuville, also also finished second in Estonia. “It shows that the team and the changes that are ongoing are heading in the right direction. I think it's clearly a sign that we have to carry on.”
Despite setting top-three stage times on all four stages today, Suninen had to settle for fourth on his second WRC start back with the factory Hyundai squad.
“I would say the result itself is quite good even if there is some disappointment to miss out the podium,” Suninen said. “There is a lot to process after these two rallies that will help prepare the next one and come back stronger. It has been a pleasure working with the Hyundai Motorsport team, they are really supporting me and giving me everything they can.”
Three-time Rally Finland winner Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top five on his one-off return to the WRC for what was the Finn's 210th start in the world championship. Despite relishing the experience behind the wheel of a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, Latvala will return to his day job as Toyota team principal.
Oliver Solberg completed the top six ahead of WRC2 winner Sami Pajari as Pierre-Louis Loubet ended up 45th following a miserable Rally Finland for the Frenchman. After crashing on the same stage as M-Sport Ford team-mate Ott Tanak retired his broken Ford Puma, Loubet's final morning was hampered by a technical issue.
WRC Secto Rally Finland
August 2-6, 2023