WRC Belgium: Tanak edges Evans to claim Ypres victory

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak held his nerve to fend off Toyota’s Elfyn Evans to claim his third World Rally Championship win of the season at Ypres Rally Belgium.

The 2019 world champion came under pressure from Evans early on Sunday morning’s asphalt stages before going on to seal the win by 5.0s. The victory arrived just two weeks after his triumph in Rally Finland.

Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja produced a faultless drive from start to finish. The Estonian was in contention from the beginning after ending Friday 2.5s shy of team-mate Thierry Neuville, who emerged in the lead at his home event.

Tanak briefly snatched the lead away from Neuville on Saturday before the latter produced a series of blistering times to assert his authority on the rally after claiming eight stage wins. A transmission issue for Tanak appeared to decrease his victory hopes, while it assisted Neuville in building a lead that once stood at 18.3s.

However, drama struck in Saturday’s penultimate stage when long-time leader Neuville understeered into tight left hander and crashed into a ditch, handing the lead Tanak.

Once ahead, Tanak was able to fend off Evans, who had struggled to find the sweet spot in his GR Yaris during the majority of the rally. The Welshman lost time to a puncture and incurred a 10s penalty after a co-driving timing error, but did end the event with five stage wins.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The final podium spot was claimed by Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi, who managed to avoid trouble in what proved to be a rally of high attrition. It was the Finn’s second podium on them bounce after finishing third in Finland earlier this month.

Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera made his first significant error of the season, when the Finn emerged unscathed from a series of barrel rolls when his misjudged a corner in Stage 2 while leading the rally.

Rovanpera rejoined the event after Toyota completed a repair on his severely damaged GR Yaris. The 21-year-old salvaged the full five bonus points after winning the rally ending power stage, but Tanak’s win reduced his championship lead to 72 points.

Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg bounced back from crashing out in Finland by scoring fourth to net his career best WRC finish.

The 20-year-old produced a measured drive throughout the tricky 20 stages that caused trouble for the majority of the Rally1 runners. Solberg faced a battle with M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux for the position on the final day before the latter crashed out in spectacular fashion on the penultimate stage.

Fourmaux held fourth spot early on Friday before losing a minute and a half when he unfortunately faced a sudden downpour that dropped him down the order. The Frenchman steadily climbed the leaderboard as his rivals hit trouble, but lost fourth late on Saturday when he checked into Stage 15 two minutes late after being held up by police on a road section.

However, Fourmaux compounded a disastrous weekend for M-Sport Ford when he ran into a ditch and almost flipped his Puma, throwing away a comfortable fifth position.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta inherited fifth to continue his run of finishing inside the points at every round this season. The Japanese driver fell away from the lead group on Friday when he suffered a gearbox issue that cost him several minutes.

The next best Rally1 finisher was M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith in 19th overall after the Brit lost more than six minutes after damaging his left rear from running off the road during Stage 10, when sitting sixth.

Gus Greensmith, Jonas Andersson, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Gus Greensmith, Jonas Andersson, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

The stage marked a dark moment for the team as Craig Breen, holding fifth, made a mistake at a left hander moments later, which resulted in a heavy crash. The Puma ran into a ditch which catapulted Breen into several rolls before the car came to rest upside down.

The incident red flagged the stage as Breen suffered his third crash in as many WRC rounds. The former Ypres Rally winner returned to the action on Sunday.

Stephane Lefebvre claimed the WRC2 honours from reigning champion Andreas Mikkelsen with Yohan Rossel third.

Former Formula 1 driver Jos Verstappen led the Masters Cup Class on his WRC debut until the Dutchman crashed out on Stage 13.

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