GRR

Tänak wins again as Rovanperä crashes on Ypres Rally

21st August 2022
Damien Smith

Ott Tänak is clearly back to his old self. Two weeks after the 2019 World Rally Champion saw off youthful points leader Kalle Rovanperä to win Rally Finland, the Hyundai ace was on top again on Ypres Rally Belgium to claim his third victory of the season. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Rovanperä proved he is human after all, by crashing out early on the opening day.

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Tänak shows his class… again

Estonian Tänak and his co-driver Martin Jarveoja put in a near-faultless display under heavy pressure on the tricky Belgian roads that caught out so many around them. Sure, they inherited the win after team-mate Thierry Neuville lost a heart-breaking second consecutive victory on his home event through a calamitous error. But keeping it on the road is key in any form of motorsport, never more so than in rallying where the slightest error of judgement can lead to cataclysmic failure – as Neuville could tell us.

The bespectacled Hyundai driver led at the end of the first leg on Friday, but only by a couple of seconds over Tänak, who then briefly hit the top after the first stage of Saturday morning. Then Neuville really found his groove and appeared to grab this rally by the throat with a series of stage wins to open up a lead of nearly 20 seconds. Then it all went wrong. On the penultimate stage of leg two Neuville ditched his victory – literally – by understeering off at a left-hander. Tänak was suddenly in the lead.

But he was still under pressure. Toyota’s Elfyn Evans hadn’t had an easy time, thanks to a puncture and a ten-second penalty for a co-driving error. But the Welshman, despite still not firing on all the cylinders we know he has within him, pushed on through Sunday morning to try and snatch victory away from Tänak and Hyundai. It was not to be. The i20 N Rally1 was five seconds ahead at the end of the Power Stage finale to clinch a satisfying second successive WRC victory for a champion who has rediscovered his rally mojo.

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Rovanperä blots his copybook

He’s won five of the nine WRC rounds this year and is generally considered to be a modern-day phenomenon. But let’s forgive Rovanperä for his rare error. It came as early as SS2, while he was leading the rally, as the GR Yaris Rally1 found its own ditch which launched it into a violent series of barrel-rolls. Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Haltunnen clambered out uninjured, while their Toyota Gazoo team went into overdrive to repair and prepare the car for what had appeared an unlikely return on Saturday. Rovanperä repaid that graft by topping the Power Stage on Sunday to claim the maximum five extra bonus points.

His title lead over Tänak has taken a hit. But as it still stands at a massive 74 points, the Ypres mistake should be considered as little more than a blip in what still looks almost certain to be a gob-smacking first world title-winning season.

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Lappi is best of the rest

Behind Tänak and Evans, Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi did what he was also able to do in Finland by completing the podium. He headed Oliver Solberg, who made up for his disastrous exit in the Finnish forests – after just 300 metres of the first leg’s opening stage – by scoring his best WRC result so far with fourth for Hyundai. Just the sort of response Hyundai’s management would have been looking for from the 20-year-old. Meanwhile, Takamoto Katsuta kept up his admirable run of scoring points in every round this year by making it a Toyota 2-3-5 in his Yaris. The Finnish-based Japanese is very much fourth in the pecking order at the team right now, but he’s doing all that has been asked of him so far this year – which is more than be said for the hapless lot in the purple-blue Ford Pumas.

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More misery for M-Sport

It was a disastrous deja-vu for M-Sport on Ypres in the wake of the errors in Finland. This time, promising Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux was the one to leave members of the Cumbrian team grinding their teeth by throwing away a sure fifth place when he crashed out on the penultimate stage on Sunday. But he was far from the only offender.

On SS10 on Saturday both Gus Greensmith and Craig Breen dropped their Pumas and lost M-Sport more points. Greensmith waved goodbye to more than six minutes with his off and could only recover to 19th overall, while Breen made it a miserable hat-trick by crashing out of his third successive rally. The Irishman in particular has so much potential and in his first season with the team this had been all set up to be his breakthrough year. Instead, it’s spiralling into a horror-show that can only be doing harm to his confidence.

Right now, M-Sport has the look of Manchester United. Nothing is going right, nor looks likely to. And yet the parallel falters because unlike the majority of the sorry clutch of overpaid footballers at Old Trafford, the Puma Rally1 is a proven winner. The trouble is, we’ve said it before: that debut victory for the new hybrid on the Monte Carlo Rally back in January feels like an age away – and even then, M-Sport needed the genius of an aging Sébastien Loeb to pull it off. Top results have been few and far between ever since.

For now, the team is standing by its drivers. But something has to change, if nothing else to protect the revived interest Ford has shown in the WRC programme this year thanks to the addition of hybrid technology. There are four rallies still to run in the 2022 WRC, starting with Greece next month. M-Sport desperately needs a turnaround in fortune – and for its drivers to put in a few faultless performances to save the season.

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Verstappen Sr crashes into the WRC

Last word this week to Jos Verstappen. The 50-year-old ex-Formula 1 driver – and of course father to world champion Max – took his WRC bow in Ypres, in the Masters Cup class. He did pretty well too, leading the category – until it all went wrong with a crash on SS13.

Still, it was a taster and perhaps next time he can convince his son to sit next to him… Only joking, Christian Horner! Imagine the kittens Red Bull’s team chief would be having if Verstappen Sr and Jr decided to bond further in a rally cockpit. Probably best not hold your breath on that one.

Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.

  • WRC

  • Ypres Rally

  • Ott Tanak

  • Kalle Rovanpera

  • Esapekka Lappi

  • Jos Verstappen

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