Evans dominates Saturday's leg of Rally Finland
The Toyota driver was in imperious form to carry a 32.1-second lead over Thierry Neuville into Sunday
Photography by Toyota
Words by Ida Wood
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans heads into the final day of Rally Finland with a massive lead of 32.1 seconds over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville after winning seven of the day’s eight stages.
Evans won all four stages in the morning, then was fastest again on the second passes of three of them in the afternoon. He kicked things off by adding 7.8s to his lead on the new Västilä stage, then was 4.5s faster than Neuville through Päijälä and 2.8s quicker on Rapsula.
That first win was the most astonishing not only because of the advantage gained, but the fact Evans finished the stage saying “to be honest I wasn’t sure if I was going well or not”. Neuville meanwhile complained that the grip was “coming and going” through the ruts that had appeared since the Rally1 crews had first gone through the stage.
Neuville had more to complain about on the next stag as he hit a couple of “big stones”, as Evans emphasised he was “just trying to keep it clean and tidy” as he went fastest and brought his lead up to half a minute.
With such a margin, it was unsurprising that when Neuville got beaten again on SS17, the day’s penultimate stage, he remarked “I’m not pushing really” and that he was “too far back now” to pressure Evans for the win. It was close on that stage though, with the top four covered by 3.4s. Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta was just 0.4s slower than Neuville, and Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen was only 0.2s slower than him.
Suninen had gone into the afternoon with an advantage of just one second over Katsuta in the battle for third place, and on SS15 Katsuta moved ahead of him by 0.8s. But they swapped positions again on SS16, with Suninen edging 0.3s clear. The SS17 result left them split by a tiny 0.1s, and with both drivers grinning as they finished the stage.
Standing water led to several drivers calling the day’s final stage “undrivable”, and the mud in Vekkula had an impact on the podium fight. Katsuta used the advice of his points-leading team-mate Kalle Rovanperä, who crashed out on Friday, to go flat-out and sideways through the mud to set the fastest time.
Neuville was 1.2s slower in second place, and although he was faster than Evans it was only by 0.7s. The reason being that Evans had not pushed: “I took the careful side.”
Suninen was a further 4.2s slower than Evans, meaning he has now dropped back to fourth and with 6.4s to make up on Katsuta with four stages to go on Sunday.
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala is a distant and lonely fifth place in the rally, on his return to the cockpit in the World Rally Championship.
The fight to be at the front of the Rally2 class was also the fight to be sixth overall, and Jari Huttunen held the position at lunchtime by a slim 1.3s over Sami Pajari and 1.8s over Oliver Solberg, who is not competing for WRC2 points this weekend.
Their positions flipped on SS15, as Huttunen stopped on the stage while Solberg went fastest to move into the class lead over Pajari by 0.9s.
Solberg was fastest again on SS16, this time by 0.4s over Andreas Mikkelsen, while Gus Greensmith crashed out of sixth in class in a very unfortunate way. He hit a rock in the middle of a hairpin at a very low speed, but the rock was so large that it tipped his car sideways on two wheels and Greensmith could not keep it balanced there before it rolled upside down into the trees. He was understandably very angry about the incident.
Pajari replied to Solberg’s pace by going fastest in SS17 by 1.1s over Emil Lindholm, and with Solberg dropping several seconds it meant the lead gap closed to 1.2s.
However the wet ruts of SS18 opened up the order again. Solberg went fastest by 9.5s over Adrien Fourmaux, and now leads WRC2 pacesetter Pajari by 12.5s.
Tags: Rally Finland, WRC, WRC 2023
Publish Date August 5, 2023 DirtFish https://www-dirtfish.imgix.net/2023/08/Evans09FIN23cm435.jpg?fit=scale&fm=pjpg&h=520&ixlib=php-3.3.1&q=70&w=780&wpsize=entry-main August 5, 2023