By Paul Evans
Elfyn Evans shares the lead of the FIA World Rally Championship tonight, after becoming the first British driver to win Rally Sweden.
Before today, only six nationalities had won the traditional winter round of the series, with 64 victories out of 70 events going to either Swedish or Finnish drivers.
Colin McRae came close by finishing second in 1992, but in a brilliant performance Evans led this year’s event from start to finish to leave Sweden tied at the top of the drivers’ standings with Thierry Neuville.
With hardly any snow, this year’s event contained just 92 stage miles spread over nine stages – making it one of the shortest rounds of the WRC of all time. It made it a daring flat-out sprint, to which Evans proved uncatchable.
Even his Toyota team-mate, six time world champion and winner of Rally Sweden in 2013 and ’15 Sébastien Ogier, was completely blown away by the Dolgellau driver’s pace, finishing a bewildered 23.6 seconds behind in fourth.
Evans took a 17.2 second lead into today’s final Power Stage – Sunday’s itinerary, as expected, shortened, with the first running of the stage sacrificed to make sure the closing television spectacular went ahead as planned.
With rain adding a final twist to a most unusually mild Rally Sweden, Evans wasn’t tempted by the extra Power Stage bonus points, and instead cruised his Yaris WRC home to victory – where he was greeted at the finish line by his father Gwyndaf, the 1996 British rally champion.
Co-driven by Scott Martin, Evans eventually finished 12.7 seconds ahead of the reigning world champion and last year’s Rally Sweden winner Ott Tänak (Hyundai), while 19-year old Kalle Rovanperä was third in another Toyota.
“I feel really good to have my first win with Toyota Gazoo Racing in our second event together,” said Evans. “I have to give a lot of credit to the team for not only giving me a great car but also giving me the support and help in testing for me to get the car to where I wanted it. The car is giving me great confidence, and in changeable conditions like we’ve had here, that’s really worth a lot. It has been very enjoyable to drive so far and hopefully we can carry this feeling onto gravel in the events to come. A big thanks to Scott too: he’s been very good since he’s been alongside me and I’m very happy to finally be with him for his first win too.”
Rally Sweden – top 10 finishers
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1h11m43.1s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +12.7s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +20.2s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +23.6s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Ford Fiesta WRC) +32.4s
6 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +33.8s
7 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m00.9s
8 Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m24.5s
9 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m59.6s
10 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai i20 R5) +4m03.0s