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.
A stunning series of five back-to-back speed test wins on Friday night and Saturday morning propelled the Welshman from fifth to first. He survived intense pressure from Ott Tänak and Craig Breen across the rest of the rally to win by 14.1s in a Toyota Yaris.
Nothing less than victory would suffice in his title quest and with maximum points for winning the closing Wolf Power Stage, the Welshman slashed championship leader 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. “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.
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 28.1s 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.
Esapekka Lappi, winner in 2017, made a remarkable return to top-level competition in a privately-entered Yaris after 10 months away. The Finn was in the thick of the podium battle in the opening leg and eventually finished fourth, 16.6s behind Breen.
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.
Gus Greensmith completed the top six in a Ford Fiesta.
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 13.7s
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 +14.1s
3. C Breen / P Nagle IRL Hyundai i20 +42.2s
4. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota Yaris +58.8s
5. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris +2min 54.4s
6. G Greensmith / C Patterson GBR Ford Fiesta +5min 02.3s