Ott Tänak secured Secto Rally Finland victory on Sunday afternoon to give Hyundai Motorsport its first ever triumph in Jyväskylä with a precision-perfect drive.
The Estonian driver led from the second stage of the rally to finish the four-day gravel road fixture 6.8sec clear of Toyota GR Yaris rival Kalle Rovanperä – clinching his third Finland success in the process.
Tänak found it difficult to be comfortable in his Hyundai i20 N from the get-go, but was still able to produce top times throughout thanks to hard grit and determination.
As Friday’s road-opener, Rovanperä was slow out of the blocks but reeled off five stage wins on Saturday to climb from fourth to second overall. He ended the penultimate day just 8.4sec in arrears after slicing the deficit in unpredictable conditions.
Dry conditions ensured further fast-paced action in Sunday’s closing leg, but Tänak was in no mood to compromise. He gave just 1.8sec away to his rival over the four speed tests and stood atop the podium for the first time since Rally Italia Sardegna in June.
“The Toyota guys gave me some help on Friday at the beginning and since then we saw a chance – some light at the end of the tunnel – and we were pushing from there,” Tänak said.
“All I want to say in these difficult times is that it’s really all down to my wife. She has been supporting me so much and I am really proud of her. I love you so much,” he added, facing the TV cameras.
Rovanperä virtually resigned himself from a maiden home victory after Sunday morning’s first pass of Ruuhimäki, where he and Tänak posted identical times. With a solid haul of points in the bag, the 21-year was unwilling to take any unnecessary risks.
He stretched his championship points lead to 94 after eight of 13 rounds, while his Toyota Gazoo Racing squad ended 88 points clear in the manufacturers’ standings with three Yaris cars in the top four.
Home hero Esapekka Lappi completed the podium 1min 13.9sec down, but was lucky to even see the finish after rolling on SS21. He used epoxy resin to patch a crack in his Toyota’s radiator ahead of the last stage and powered through with no front windscreen.
Elfyn Evans was 16.9sec behind and conceded time on Saturday afternoon. Like his team-mate, the Welshman also had to pick up the spanners, bodging together damaged rear suspension using ratchet straps and jubilee clips.
It wasn’t Thierry Neuville’s weekend. Set-up frustrations plagued the Hyundai driver and he was never in a position to fight with the leading quartet. He trailed Evans by 40.4sec in fifth overall and slipped to third in the championship behind Tänak.
Yaris hotshot Takamoto Katsuta ended 51.0sec further back to head Gus Greensmith, who was M-Sport Ford’s leading Puma driver in seventh overall.
Greensmith scrapped with colleague Pierre-Louis Loubet for most of the event but the Frenchman retired with mechanical woes before the final stage.
The championship returns to asphalt in less than two weeks when Belgium makes its second WRC appearance. Ypres Rally Belgium takes place on August 18 – 21.
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 N 2hr 24min 4.6sec
2. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +6.8sec
3. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota GR Yaris +1min 20.7sec
4. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +1min 37.6sec
5. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +2min 18.0sec
6. T Katsuta / A Johnston JPN Toyota GR Yaris +3min 9.0sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 8 of 13):
1. K Rovanperä 198pts
2. O Tänak 104pts
3. T Neuville 103pts