By Gareth James
Elfyn Evans stormed to victory at Secto Automotive Rally Finland on Sunday afternoon to keep alive his hopes of a maiden FIA World Rally Championship title.
The Dolgellau-born ace produced a stunning series of five back-to-back speed test wins on Friday night and Saturday morning to go from fifth to first.
Evans then survived intense pressure from Ott Tänak and Craig Breen across the rest of the rally to win by 14.1sec in a Toyota Yaris – adding five more precious points by winning the closing Wolf Power Stage.
He has now slashed championship leader and team-plate Sébastien Ogier’s advantage from 44 points to 24 with two rounds remaining.
“This one feels good in the way we managed to do it,” smiled Evans, for whom this was a fifth career win an d arguably the best of his career.
Yes!! Very happy to secure the win on such an iconic event after a big old race all weekend. Our test went well, Friday was good and we really took the fight to the others on Saturday. Big thanks to our @TGR_WRC team, and a super home win for the Yaris WRC again 🏆 🥇 🏴 #EE33 pic.twitter.com/QLbN2LJTv4
— Elfyn Evans (@ElfynEvans) October 3, 2021
“We struggled a lot [on the fast roads] in Estonia and we made some changes to the car in the test and found some confidence early on.
“I always said from the outset the aim was to do the best on each rally we have left. We have to just focus on doing our best in [the next round] in Spain and worry about the rest later.”
His Toyota Gazoo Racing team is based near the host city of Jyväskylä and victory preserved its unbeaten Rally Finland record since returning to the WRC in 2017.
Toyota also increased its manufacturers’ championship lead over Hyundai Motorsport to 61 points.
Against a backdrop of stunning autumnal colours in the forests, the championship’s fastest roads provided tremendous action and Tänak and Breen both led on the opening day in a furious battle in their Hyundai i20s.
Before this weekend, only three non-Scandinavians had won #RallySweden and #RallyFinland, and unsurprisingly all three are #WRC Champions.@TGR_WRC‘s @ElfynEvans has now won both, so will he complete the next part of being in this exclusive club?https://t.co/o74xhsyxGy
— dirtfishrally (@DirtFishRally) October 3, 2021
Ultimately, they had no answer to Evans’ pace, but set-up improvements midway through Saturday gave Tänak more confidence and he eased clear of Breen to finish 28.1sec ahead.
Despite an overshoot at a junction on Sunday morning, the Irishman bagged his third podium from his last three outings and matched his 2016 result.
Ogier ended fifth after a lacklustre drive in his Yaris. He never had the pace to match the leading quartet and a disappointing weekend was made worse when he was hit with a 60sec penalty on Saturday night for not fastening his crash helmet strap correctly earlier in the day.
Elfyn Evans concreta la victoria en el Rally de Finlandia pic.twitter.com/vOfNpHeTxJ
— Yo soy el Spotter (@SoyElSpotter) October 3, 2021
The WRC returns to asphalt for the penultimate round at RallyRACC Rally de España on 14 – 17 October. The fixture is based in Salou.
1. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris 2hr 19min 13.7sec
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 +14.1sec
3. C Breen / P Nagle IRL Hyundai i20 +42.2sec
4. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota Yaris +58.8sec
5. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris +2min 54.4sec
6. G Greensmith / C Patterson GBR Ford Fiesta +5min 02.3sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 10 of 12)
1. S Ogier 190pts
2. E Evans 166pts
3. T Neuville 130pts