Evans Wins Rally Finland to Reduce Points Gap

Elfyn Evans stormed to victory at Secto Rally Finland to keep alive his chances of fighting for this year's FIA World Rally Championship title. The Toyota driver produced his most convincing display in a Rally1 car to date on his way to scoring a second WRC victory of the season by a margin of 39.1s over Hyundai's Thierry Neuville.

Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta edged Hyundai's Teemu Suninen to the final podium spot, while Jari-Matti Latvala's one-off WRC comeback resulted in an impressive fifth, just +4m09.4s in arrears in what was a remarkable rally of attrition.

Evans' second Rally Finland win, following his 2021 triumph, makes him the most successful British driver in the event's storied 72-year history, with the Welshman also matching Finnish greats Ari Vatanen and Timo Salonen as two-time winners. Evans and co-driver Scott Martin assumed the rally lead on a rain-affected Friday when Toyota team-mate and championship leader Kalle Rovanpera uncharacteristically exited his home event in spectacular fashion on stage eight, the legendary Myhinpaa test.

Rally favourite Rovanpera seemed in control of the rally after taking the lead in stage two, although Evans was able to stay in touch with the Finn, sitting 5.7s behind before Rovanpera rolled and caused terminal chassis damage to his GR Yaris. The home hero's shock retirement handed Evans a 10.9s lead over Neuville, who applied pressure on the Welshman by winning Friday's final three stages to close the deficit to 6.9s.

However, on Saturday, Evans repelled the challenge from Neuville, winning seven of the day's eight stages in tricky wet conditions, to storm into a 32.1s lead. Evans' most impressive run arrived in stage 15 where he took 7.8s out of nearest rival Neuville, who struggled with the rear stability of his i20 N across the day's stages.

Evans' blistering pace on Saturday afforded him the opportunity to cruise to his seventh career WRC win. However, he elected to push and claimed the five bonus points by winning the rally-ending Power Stage from Neuville. Evans now trails Rovanpera by 25 points in the championship standings with four rounds remaining.

Katsuta ensured Toyota filled two spots on the podium after an intense two-day fight with Suninen, the latter making only his second Rally1 start. Katsuta found himself in third after stage five before losing the spot to Suninen in the following stage, but the Japanese driver recovered to end Friday in third 12.4s ahead of Suninen only for the positions to swap again in stage 12. Katsuta suffered a costly wild spin but the Japanese fought back to reclaim third after stage 15, before winning stage 18, denying Evans a clean sweep of Saturday's stages.
Katsuta held firm despite coming under pressure from Suninen on Sunday to score his fourth career WRC podium with 4.3s in hand.

The Rally1 field was completed by 18-time WRC rally winner and Toyota team boss Latvala, who made his first WRC start since 2020. The three-time Finland winner and Rally1 debutant steadily gathered pace as he acclimated to hybrid power for the first time. He also took the final bonus point in the final Power Stage. Latvala was able to climb to fifth thanks to a string of retirements headlined by Rovanpera. M-Sport's Ott Tanak had led the rally after winning Thursday's super special but a major engine failure caused by a rock coming through the sump guard put last year's winner out of the rally on stage three.

M-Sport lost its second car driven by Pierre-Louis Loubet to crash on the same stage although the Frenchman was able to rejoin the rally on Saturday. Hyundai's Esapekka Lappi joined the list of retirements after a heavy crash into trees on stage five. Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm were lucky to avoid serious injury.

The Rally1 exits helped promote Oliver Solberg to sixth overall as the Swede topped the WRC2 runners ahead of Sami Pajari, Adrien Fourmaux, Nikolay Gryazin and Andreas Mikkelsen. EKO Acropolis Rally Greece is the next round 7th - 10th September

6th August, 2023