Elfyn Evans sprinted to victory at Secto Rally Finland on Sunday afternoon, maintaining his prospects of competing for the FIA World Rally Championship crown this year.
With the quickest time on the powerstage at Rally Finland, Elfyn Evans won his seventh World Rally Championship and second of 2023.
Elfyn Evans had been in the lead since Friday’s SS8, when teammate Kalle Rovanperä started, and on Saturday, he went on a string of seven stage victories to extend his lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville to more than a minute.
The Toyota driver put on his most impressive performance in a Rally1 car to date on the road to winning the WRC by 39.1 seconds over Thierry Neuville of Hyundai.
Evans is now the most successful British driver in the event’s spectacular 72-year history after his victory in 2021, and the Welshman now joins Finnish greats Ari Vatanen and Timo Salonen as two-time champions.
Similar results unfolded on Sunday morning, with Evans winning two of the three stages to increase his advantage to 38.2 seconds. Going into the powerstage, Evans knew that if he earned the five points for being quickest, he would close the gap on championship leader Rovanperä to 25 points.
On a wet Friday, Evans and co-driver Scott Martin took over the rally’s lead after Toyota teammate and championship leader Kalle Rovanpera abruptly ended his home event on stage eight, the famed Myhinpaa challenge.
After winning stage two, rally favorite Rovanpera appeared to be in charge of the rally. However, Evans was able to keep up with the Finn, trailing him by 5.7 seconds until Rovanpera rolled and severely damaged the chassis of his GR Yaris.
Evans now has a 10.9-second advantage over Neuville after the hometown hero’s unexpected retirement. Neuville put pressure on the Welshman by taking the final three stages on Friday to cut the gap to 6.9 seconds.
Evans prevailed over Neuville’s charge on Saturday, winning seven of the day’s eight stages which were held in difficult rainy conditions, to sprint into a 32.1s lead. Evans’ best performance came in stage 15, when he outran Neuville by 7.8 seconds.
Neuville had trouble with his i20 N’s rear stability throughout the day’s stages.
Evans was able to coast to his seventh WRC victory of his career thanks to a brilliant Saturday. However, he made the decision to press on, defeating Neuville to win the rally’s last Power Stage, earning the five additional points. With four rounds remaining in the championship, Evans currently sits 25 points behind Rovanpera.
After a challenging two-day battle with Suninen, who was making merely his second Rally1 start, Katsuta made sure Toyota took two seats on the podium. After stage five, Katsuta was in third place but lost that position to Suninen in the subsequent stage.
Katsuta rebounded to finish third on Friday, 12.4 seconds ahead of Suninen, but in stage 12, the order of placing again switched. After a costly wild spin, Katsuta battled back to retake third place on stage 15, then won stage 18, keeping Evans from winning all of the stages on Saturday.
Suninen put pressure on Katsuta on Sunday, but Katsuta resisted and finished third for the fourth time in his WRC career with 4.3 seconds ahead of him.
Latvala, the boss of the Toyota team and an 18-time WRC rally winner, rounded out the Rally1 field. This was his first WRC appearance since 2020.
The three-time Finland winner and Rally1 newbie gradually picked up speed as he became accustomed to hybrid power. In the last Power Stage, he also earned the last bonus point.
Rovanpera was the first of a run of retirees that allowed Latvala to move up to fifth place. Ott Tanak of M-Sport took the lead in the rally after winning the super special on Thursday, but on stage three an engine failure brought on by a rock entering the sump guard eliminated the rally’s winner from the previous year’s event.
Despite Pierre-Louis Loubet’s ability to re-enter the rally on Saturday, M-Sport lost its second car in a crash on the same stage.
After a severe collision into trees on stage five, Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi entered the list of retirees. Lappi and his co-driver Janne Ferm were fortunate to escape serious injuries.
Oliver Solberg was the top WRC2 contender ahead of Sami Pajari, Adrien Fourmaux, Nikolay Gryazin and Andreas Mikkelsen. The Rally1 withdrawals enabled Oliver Solberg move up to sixth overall.