Last weekend saw the running of the 10th round of the 2021 WRC season, the Secto Automotive Rally Finland, better known as the 1 000 Lakes or the Finnish Grand Prix, still being the fastest ever rally on the calendar.
This time the event was run later in the year than usual and the varying conditions created a problem with grip which all entrants experienced.
Once again it was the usual trio who swept the roads on day one, The Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris’s of Sebastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, followed by teammates Elfyn Evans with Scott Martin were followed by the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20 of Thierry Neuville with co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe.
Following the early Friday morning shakedown stage, the results indicated the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT were setting the pace and it could well be a battle between the i20’s of Estonian Ott Tanak with co-driver Martin Jarveoja and Irishman Craig Breen with Paul Nagle reading the notes.
Special Stage 1, the short opening stage of the rally, was won by Takamoto Katsuta with new co-driver Aaron Johnston in the Yaris of the Toyota Gazoo Racing team, but from then on it was to be a close tussle between Breen and Tanak.
It was the Irishman who took the honours on SS2 followed by Tanak, but the next two stages were won by the Estonian before Breen struck back on SS5.. The Hyundai team’s third crew of Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe were struggling from a lack of grip and were running further down the field.
Close behind the Hyundai battle was Evans and Kalle Rovanpera with co-driver Jonne Halttunen, the young Finn celebrating his 21st birthday on the day and keen to add a third victory to his seasons tally.
Ogier experienced a difficult first day and admitted that apart from this road position and the slippery conditions, he was too slow, as his mind seemed to be more on his eighth championship rather than the rally result.
Evans set a blistering pace on the final stage of the day, quicker than both Hyundai drivers and moving him up from fifth to third position overnight, just 3.3 seconds behind second place Tanak and 6.1 seconds behind overnight leader Breen.
Esapekka Lappi in a privately-entered Yaris was fourth ahead of Rovanpera with Neuville sixth some 31seconds of the lead but crucially ahead of championship rival Ogier.
Saturday, and with nine special stages, it was the longest day of the rally. Evans was determined to climb the leader board and there was just no stopping the flying Welshman as he won the first four stages of the day.
By the lunchtime service halt he was 5.6 seconds ahead of Breen and 9.7 ahead of Tanak. The afternoon and Tanak struck back winning three stages to close the gap, but Evans took the penultimate stage and with the pair sharing the win on the final stage of the day, Evans became the overnight leader by 9.1 seconds.
Following a set up change to his car, Tanak had overtaken Breen in the early afternoon stages and led the Irishman by 10.4 seconds who was followed by Lappi a further 25.3 seconds adrift.
Teammate Neuville was maintaining his advantage over Ogier until disaster struck in the final forest stage. The light pod on his i20 broke free of its mountings in a compression, damaging the cooling system and sending his engine’s water temperature soaring and a forced retirement for the Belgian.
Ogier had made changes to his Yaris and his increased pace moved him up to fifth, but not everything was going well for the Toyota team. Katsuta went out in SS8 as a result of a bad landing after a jump which took him off the route and damaging his right rear suspension.
Rovanpera was next to retire after hitting a pile of gravel on the side of the road in SS10, causing serious frontal damage and forcing him to retire for the day.
The Ford Fiesta teams of Gus Greensmith and co-driver Chris Patterson along with Adrien Fourmaux and co-driver Alexandre Coria were sixth and seventh, albeit being four minutes 16.9 seconds and five minutes 31.5 seconds respectively, behind the leader.
At the end of the day Evans was reported as saying. “It’s been a good day, I really enjoyed it out there. It’s been a great fight and obviously there is a long way to go tomorrow but we’ll take it stage by stage.”
The final day and it’s just four stages totaling 45.74 km to the end of the rally and it’s Tanak who takes the first stage of the day from Evans in second place, but the gap is a mere 0.4 seconds. It looks as though the Toyota driver is pacing himself to limit the risk factor.
On the next stage though he increases his lead by a further 3.5 seconds over Tanak by winning the stage. SS18, the penultimate stage and you wonder whether it is the Estonian pressurising or Evans control as he wins the stage by 0.2 seconds to take a lead of 12.4 seconds into the final 11.12 km of SS19 and victory.
There was certainly no stopping Evans who was out for maximum points, taking overall victory and bringing home the extra five points for winning the Wolf power stage, having further stretched his lead to 14.1 seconds and adding 30 points to his total.
Tanak was second overall with Breen holding on to third, the Rally Finland once again provided an exciting spectacle and a firm favourite with rally fans around the globe.
The 11th round of the 2021championship the, Rally RACC Catalunya – Rally de España, will run between the 14th and 17th October will be an all asphalt event in the Costa Daurada area
1. E. Evans/S. Martin Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
2. O.Tanak/M.Jarveoja Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
3. C. Breen/P.Nagle Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20
4. E.Lappi/J.Ferme RTE-Motorsport Yaris
5. S. Ogier/J.Ingrassia Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
6. G. Greensmith/C.Patterson M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta
7. A.Fourmaux/ Alexandre Coria M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta
31. K.Rovanperä/J. Halttunen Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
33. T.Katsuta/ A.Johnston Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris
FIA World Rally Championship Drivers (after round 10 of 12)
1. S.Ogier 190
2. E.Evans 166
3. T.Neuville 130
4. K.Rovanpera 129
5. O.Tanak 128
6. C.Breen 76
7. T.Katsuta 66
8. G.Greensmith 52
9. D.Sordo 43
10. A.Fourmaux 42
FIA World Rally Championship Manufacturers (after round10 of 12)
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 441
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 380
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 172