Secto Rally Finland winner Elfyn Evans says his quest to become World Rally Champion for the first time is now ‘back on' after capitalising on the retirement of current points' leader Kalle Rovanpera.
After round nine of the World Rally Championship, Rovanpera's lead over his Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate has been trimmed to 25 points with four rounds of the season still to be played out.
Rovanpera appeared to be doing everything right as he took his home round by the scruff of the next on Friday's opening stage before proceeding to steadily add to his advantage. However, an accident on the day's antepenultimate stage that left his GR Yaris Rally1 on its roof and beyond driveable, and with the damage too severe to fix, he was unable to rejoin under Super Rally rules.
Sensing his opportunity, Evans went on a huge offensive during Saturday and traversed seven of the eight high-speed gravel tests fastest to move clear of eventual runner-up, Thierry Neuville. His winning margin stood at 39.1 seconds at the finish, with five bonus points for setting the quickest time on the rally-ending Power Stage being added to his maximum score of twenty-five points.
While Evans stays second in the standings, he has taken a giant stride in closing the gap to himself and defending champion Rovanpera with a second career victory at the ‘Gravel Grand Prix'.
“It is true – it is still quite a big gap to Kalle in front and we know he is on great form, but of course we know we are here to try and challenge for the World Rally Championship – that's our aim – and of course there's a lot more light now at the end of the tunnel than there was heading here,” said Evans who has drawn level with Ari Vatanen and Timo Salonen after his second Finland triumph.
“It was unfortunate what happened to Kalle, he was quite unlucky, you never like to see that and especially in such a fast place and we are glad they are both okay, but in terms of the Championship it is more on again and we look forward to continuing to fight for the rest of the year,” he added.
Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda – who was performing Team Principal duties in the absence of Jari-Matti Latvala who was competing at his home rally as a one-off – said it was hard for people not to be impressed by what they witnessed Evans deliver and labelled the performance “amazing”.
“It has been a great weekend and there has been a really nice feeling inside the car and with that came the stage times, quite naturally I would say. It is great to win here for a second time and it is a second home rally for the team with them being based here in Jyvaskyla,” continued Evans.
“It is a nice feeling and actually quite similar to how I was here in 2021, although I would say the risk was probably a bit higher in 2021 when I won. There was a massive fight going on three-ways with Ott [Tanak] and Craig [Breen] at that time, so yeah it went all the way down to the wire then. I had an equally good feeling in the car this weekend and those times kept coming – it was nice.”