GRR

Tänak beats Rovanperä to Rally Finland victory

07th August 2022
Damien Smith

Ott Tänak and Hyundai had no expectations to compete for victory at Rally Finland last weekend. How the Estonian defied that pessimism in an i20 N Rally1 that remains a handful compared to its planted Toyota GR Yaris rival was the stuff of sheer grit and commitment. Tänak led from the moment he won the first stage on Friday morning, holding his nerve brilliantly as World Rally Championship points leader Kalle Rovanperä hunted him down on home ground, in a performance and a duel to remember.

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A fight to the Finnish

“They kept us spellbound all day,” said Hyundai team chief Julien Moncet on Saturday night, as he reflected on his driver’s 8.4 seconds lead ahead of the final day and Tänak’s fantastic battle with Rovanperä. “It has been an incredible fight, an epic battle with Kalle. They were fighting all day, every tenth of a second. Ott was outstanding. Today he really pushed the car. We, or me at least, didn’t expect to still be in the lead tonight and it’s a great satisfaction for all of us.”

The hard yards were done by then after a tough afternoon’s rallying. But the groundwork for the victory was laid during the first leg on Friday.

Tänak had been downbeat on the opening day despite the three stage wins that kept him 3.8s ahead of Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi by the end. It had been hard work to keep his Hyundai on top and he’d been forced to drive out of style, with plenty of aggression. Rovanperä was satisfied to be fourth at this stage behind Elfyn Evans, 21 seconds off the lead, the points leader badly disadvantaged by running first on the road over the fast gravel stages.

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Finnish rain was expected to change the game on Saturday after the fine and dry opening day. But although the loop of four stages were damp over the first runs, the sun returned to dry them out for the afternoon, creating ruts that gave crews a new headache. Now off the leash running fourth on the road, Rovanperä set to work and on the second test of the morning took the first of five stage wins for the day, overhauling out-of-sorts 2021 Rally Finland winner Evans for third as he did so. He moved past Lappi into second on the repeat run over Rapsula, the 2017 event winner distracted by a cracked windscreen picked up on the previous stage. His Yaris flicked up a stone, which ricocheted off a tree and back into his screen. “I don’t know what I’ve done wrong to deserve this kind of luck,” said a rueful EP.

Tänak responded to the growing Rovanperä threat by equalling the Finn’s time on the leg’s penultimate test, but a small mistake at the end of the final stage brought the gap down to single digits. It had been a wonderfully intense afternoon. “There are always places you can do better, but what we have been doing this afternoon was quite impressive in places,” said a quietly satisfied Tänak on Saturday evening. “I can’t say we could have done a lot more, but there is always perfection. But in rallying to get perfection is always a bit tricky.”

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The following morning, Tänak edged his rival, whose priority was extending his already massive points lead, by 1.9 seconds over the opening stage, and with the gap back into double digits the battle was effectively over. The pair set identical times on the next test for the second time on the rally and negotiated the penultimate stage without drama. Then as Rovanperä claimed victory on the Power Stage, Tänak played it safe to score his third victory in Finland and a landmark first for Hyundai in the Toyota team’s backyard.

“The Toyota guys gave me some hope on Friday in the beginning and since then we saw some chance or light at the end of the tunnel,” said Tänak. “We were pushing from there.”

“It’s a great day for Hyundai,” said Moncet. “We finally made it in Finland after nine years. A great drive from Ott, he has been incredible all weekend and we have shown as well that we have a winning car, with no reliability issues.”

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Rovanperä closes on historic first title

The local hero was far from disappointed with second place. “I would have liked to be in front of course, but if you look at the situation I think we did pretty well, starting first on the road on Friday,” said Rovanperä. “After that we fought back and we are still quite close, so I think we can be proud of what we did. A huge thanks to all the fans – the support here was so amazing.”

Rovanperä’s mature approach means he fell just short of claiming a home win in what looks certain to be his first world title-winning season. But he’s extended his points advantage to a gaping 94 points – over Tänak who has displaced Neuville in second. At just 21 years old, that historic youngest-ever crown is almost within touching distance.

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Lappi rolls but saves his podium

All looked settled up front on the final morning – until Lappi made a small error that had big and embarrassing consequences. On Oittila, the penultimate stage of the rally, he slid wide at an innocuous left-hander and suddenly his Yaris was launched into a triple barrel-roll. The 2017 Finland Rally winner was lucky the corner wasn’t a fast one and he managed to limp his badly crumpled Yaris to the end of the stage. He and co-driver Janne Ferm then set to work on frantic roadside repairs to save their home podium finish.

The sight of them lined up at the start of the Power Stage was amusing, for anyone other than those wearing Toyota colours. Having punched out another badly cracked windscreen and lacking most of the roof and rear spoiler, Lappi and Ferm wore ski goggles for the final test and tore through the stage with Janne working hard to keep hold of his flapping pacenotes. They started the stage 29.6 seconds ahead of Evans in fourth, but remarkably kept up a tremendous pace to gingerly take what was supposed to be a flying finish 16.9 seconds ahead of the Welshman and Scott Martin. The podium was saved.

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Evans struggles, but is still best of the rest

Evans was dissatisfied with fourth, having rallied a world away from the dominance he showed in Finland last autumn. A damaged left-rear corner after a heavy impact on the penultimate stage of Saturday had tested his own roadside mechanic skills, an admirable Heath Robinson solution allowing him to nurse his Yaris back to service.

Thierry Neuville had started the rally with a win on the short Harju spectator stage in Jyvaskyla on Thursday night, but once into the forests on Friday the Belgian immediately lacked confidence in his tricky Hyundai and accepted a bit-part to the main acts ahead of him. Still, he saw off local resident Takamoto Katsuta for fifth, the Japanese surviving a couple of spins on Saturday on his way to sixth.

Gus Greensmith was best of the M-Sport Pumas in seventh, following Craig Breen’s wheel-ripping crash on Saturday when the Irishman had been lying fifth. He misjudged a crest and landed on a bank, destroying the right-rear corner of his Puma. There was also late heartbreak for Pierre-Louis Loubet, who lost eighth place with a problem on the road section before the final Power Stage. That elevated Jari Huttenen into the top ten on his Rally1 debut for M-Sport.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • Rally Finland

  • WRC

  • Ott Tanak

  • Kalle Rovanpera

  • Rally

  • Elfyn Evans

  • Esapekka Lappi

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