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WRC Rally Finland

WRC Finland: Evans more than doubles lead after perfect morning

Elfyn Evans completed a clean sweep of stage wins on Saturday morning to more than double his Rally Finland lead over World Rally Championship title rival Thierry Neuville.

The Toyota driver starred in challenging wet conditions to win all four stages of the morning loop to transform his overnight 6.9s lead to 17.7s, as WRC crews headed to the midday service.

Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen snatched third from Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta after an error from the Japanese driver.

Three-time Rally Finland winner Jari-Matti Latvala successfully navigated the stages to hold fifth overall, as the Toyota team principal continued to build his speed in his one-off WRC comeback drive.

The Rally1 field grew to six cars for Saturday after M-Sport completed a repair on Pierre-Louis Loubet’s damaged suspension after his crash during Friday’s stage three.

However, world rally champion and yesterday’s long time rally leader Kalle Rovanpera was absent due to chassis damage suffered to his GR Yaris following his spectacular roll in stage eight. It was a similar situation for Esapekka Lappi, while M-Sport’s Ott Tanak was sidelined after an engine failure caused by a rock.

The wet weather that plagued Friday continued as crews tackled the brand new stage 11 (Vastila 18.94km) in slippery conditions.

It didn’t halt rally leader Evans as he claimed his first stage win of the event. The Welshman almost doubled his overall rally lead by being 4.6s faster than rival Neuville, who struggled to tame his i20 N on the slippery gravel roads.

“I was fighting with the grip. As soon as I tried a little bit more, I lost the car. I couldn't stay in the line and I did what I could,” said Neuville.

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

In the battle for third overall, Suninen was able to take 0.8s out of the deficit to Katsuta, who had to alter his pacenotes for the start of the stage, which necessitated a careful approach.

The pair were almost eight seconds quicker than Latvala, who was becoming more acclimatised to the Rally1 GR Yaris.

Neuville was able to find his rhythm for the following undulating stage 12 (Paijala 20.19km), as he locked horns with Evans in what proved to be one of the closest fought stages of the rally to date.

Evans was 0.3s down on Neuville’s effort at the penultimate split, but a stellar final section resulting in a 0.7s swing, handed the Toyota driver a second stage win.

“I felt in some places I should have been a bit more brave, especially at the start where I didn't do as well as I would have liked,” said Evans, who extended his lead to 11.9s. “It's nice to be in this position and, of course, there's a long way to go.”

There was however drama for third-placed Katsuta, who was fortunate to survive a wild spin. The Japanese lost 13.8s to the chasing Suninen, slipping to fourth overall in the process.

"I just spun. It was so slippery, I lost the line a bit and could not manage it. I had to reverse and it cost a lot of time,” said Katsuta.

At the head of thee field, Evans maintained his perfect start to Saturday morning after posting a third fastest time in stage 13 (Rapsula 20.56km).

The Toyota driver excelled in the challenging conditions to beat Neuville by 3.4s. Neuville declared he was at “his maximum” during the stage, which further highlighted Evans’ effort.

Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Katsuta started his recovery from dropping down to fourth by taking 0.3s out of Suninen to close the gap between the podium fighting duo down to 1.9s.

The roads continued to dry following early morning rain showers, although the road surface remained damp for stage 14 (Vekkula 20.65km), the last of the loop.

The stage was claimed by Evans to complete a perfect morning for the 2021 Rally Finland winner. Neuville struggle with the handling of i20 N to post a time 2.4s slower than Evans.

Meanwhile, a determined Katsuta stepped up his fightback as he clawed 0.9s from Suninen in the test to close to within a second of third position.

In WRC2, Jari Huttunen led the class sitting in sixth overall, ahead of fellow Finn Sami Pajari.

The field will complete a second pass through the stages this afternoon to complete Saturday’s schedule.

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