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WRC Rally Finland

WRC Finland: Dominant Evans wins seven stages to open healthy lead

Elfyn Evans delivered one of the most dominant performances of his World Rally Championship career to pull clear of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville at Rally Finland.

The Toyota driver reeled off seven consecutive stage wins to turn an overnight 6.9s lead into a commanding 32.1s advantage over Neuville heading into the final day.

After losing third following a spin in the morning, Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta snatched the final podium position back from Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen. Jari-Matti Latvala, the only other Rally1 field to complete full rally distance to date, ended the day in fifth, 3m39.5s adrift in his WRC comeback drive.

Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera was absent from Saturday’s action after incurring chassis damage following a roll while leading the rally on stage eight yesterday.

The championship leader joined Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi and M-Sport’s Ott Tanak on the sidelines after their respective retirements due to a crash and engine failure on Friday. The second M-Sport Ford of Pierre-Louis Loubet was able to rejoin the rally after crashing out yesterday.

The rain showers that dominated the morning running were replaced by sunshine for the start of the afternoon loop. While the roads remained damp, navigating the ruts was arguably the biggest challenge.

Stage 14 belonged to Evans as he stamped his authority on the event with perhaps his best drive in a Rally1 car to date. The Welshman defeated Neuville by a whopping 7.8s across the 18.94km test to push his lead out to 25.5s.

Neuville was surprised by the ruts and struggled with his i20 N yielding inconsistent grip.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

“To be honest I wasn't sure if I was going well or not,” said an understated Evans. “Maybe I was pushing a bit harder at the end, but yeah it was fine.”

Katsuta provided further joy for Toyota by taking third overall from Hyundai’s Suninen in the stage. The Japanese driver was 1.8s faster than the Finn, who claimed he “struggled quite badly” during his run. It was enough for Katsuta to leapfrog Suninen by 0.8s.

Katsuta’s time in third position was short-lived however as Suninen issued a response in stage 16 (Paijala 2 20.19km). Suninen admitted he changed his driving style due to the ruts, which seemed to work, stopping the clock 1.1s faster than Katsuta, who reported a “strange feeling” from his Toyota’s engine.

In the fight for the victory, Evans extended his rally lead out to half a minute after beating Neuville by 4.5s to continue his perfect run of stage wins.

This streak continued into stage 17 (Rapsula 20.56km), this time Evans took another 2.8s on Neuville, who declared he was no longer pushing.

The battle for third overall got closer as Katsuta reached the stage end 0.2s quicker than Suninen to trail his rival by a tenth heading into the day’s final stage where he produced a statement drive.

Katsuta denied Evans a prefect clean sweep of Saturday’s stages by winning stage 18 (Vekkula, 20.65km), a test featuring slippery, muddy patches. The Toyota driver reached the stage end 6.5s faster than Suninen, while Neuville took 0.7s out of Evans after posting the second fastest time.

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT NG Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Oliver Solberg assumed the lead of WRC2 after long-time leader Jari Huttunen stopped during stage 15. Solberg has climbed to sixth overall in the process, ahead of fellow WRC2 runners Sami Pajari, Adrien Fourmaux, Nikolay Gryazin and Andreas Mikkelsen, who completed the top 10.

WRC2 title contender Gus Greensmith retired after suffering a slow roll caused by a rut at a sharp left hander in stage 16.

Rally Finland will conclude on Sunday after four scheduled stages.

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