The World Rally Championship roared back into life after the July break over the first weekend of August in the forests of Finland, the fastest event on the calendar. During the summer break there were a few nuggets of news, the biggest of which is the FIA announcing officially that WRC will switch to Hybrid drivetrains from 2022 onwards. The details of the new hybrid and engine regulations have yet to be finalised, and it is unclear if the cars will deploy a spec hybrid system or if manufacturers will be free to develop their own Hybrid systems.
Prior to the event, Ford suffered a significant blow to its Rally Finland campaign. Elfyn Evans suffered a back injury during the summer break and he was declared medically unfit, leaving him with no choice but to skip Rally Finland. Hayden Paddon, who was drafted in as an additional string to Ford’s bow was also sidelined for Rally Finland. During pre-event testing Paddon was involving in a high speed crash which completely destroyed his Ford Fiesta RS, Paddon was lucky to escape unscathed.
The final piece of news during the break concerns Sebastien Ogier, who has announced that at the end of the 2020 season he will retire from the WRC.
The first day of the rally got underway and saw Ott Tanak starting as the first car on the road, despite Tanak acting as the road sweeper he was able to lead the opening morning stages. The initial lead held by Tanak was assisted by the chasing Latvala & Meeke both picking up punctures. As the second run through Friday’s stages began in the afternoon, the poorer stage conditions saw Tanak bleeding away time; this allowed Jari-Matti Latvala to jump ahead into the lead.
Later in the afternoon, such was the pace on show from the Toyota’s and Esapekka Lappi who was enjoying a strong run in his Citroen C3, just 0.6 of a second separated the top two of Latvala and Tanak and the chasing 3 cars were tied. Craig Breen on his debut for Hyundai would round out the day as best of the rest, running a strong consistent pace and quickest of the Hyundai’s. Sebastien Ogier was struggling for pace in his Citroen as he was fighting off a sickness bug which was blunting his charge to the front.
Thierry Neuville meanwhile was struggling badly with the handling of his Hyundai and found himself all the way down in seventh place. Neuville’s pre-event testing and set up work took place in wet conditions on the Finnish gravel, this left Neuville with a Hyundai that was too soft in its set-up and hemorrhaging time to his rivals.
Day 2 of the Rally would start with Latvala leading from Kris Meeke, Esapekka Lappi in third, Ott Tanak in fourth and Craig Breen in fifth position. Immediately, the top four thundered off at a torrid pace into the Finnish forests. The Toyota’s of Latvala & Meeke looked to be in control as Lappi was straining to match the pace of the Toyota’s. Tanak meanwhile was catching up thanks to a more helpful road position on the second day.
The challenging Kakaristo stage would see high drama, an errant rock that had slipped off one of the banks onto the apex of one of the many high speed corners. Kris Meeke was the first to find the football sized rock, on the spot he was forced to retire as the rockstrike destroyed the rear suspension on his Toyota Yaris. Latvala found the exact same rock shortly after and suffered a left rear puncture which also shredded the rear bodywork of his Yaris.
Just one rock, on one corner had shook up the rally completely. Tanak finished the day in the lead with Lappi in hot pursuit but slowly dropping back in second place. Behind the top three, Andreas Mikkelsen, Craig Breen & Sebastien Ogier duked it out for fourth place, Ogier was still under the weather but had picked up the pace to overhaul Craig Breen. Thierry Neuville meanwhile was still struggling to make any ground on the cars in front of him, the same set-up issues from Friday carrying over into the Saturday.
The final day of Rally Finland dawned with Tanak in command with Esapekka Lappi in second and Latvala in third. Tanak immediately set to work setting the fastest time in the opening stage on Sunday and team-mate Latvala went quickest in the second stage of the day. Andreas Mikkelsen and Sebastien Ogier battled for fourth place, the gap between the two see-sawing throughout the morning, Craig Breen was steadily dropping back from Mikkelsen and Ogier on the final day, unable to keep pace with those ahead of him. Gus Greensmith meanwhile brought his rally to a premature end, Greensmith misjudged a left hand-hand corner on the Ruuhimaki stage, understeering off and colliding with a tree bringing his weekend to an unceremonious close.
The final stage of the rally was the Wolf Power Stage as per WRC tradition. Tanak wrapped up the stage win, netting himself an additional 5 points on top of the 25 points for the rally win, enabling Tanak to take a decent margin in the championship over Ogier & Neuville. Thierry Neuville meanwhile netted four points in the power stage, a useful bit of damage limitation after struggling with his car for the duration of the rally. Esapekka Lappi enjoying a breakout performance finishing the rally in second place, Latvala finished in third with Andreas Mikkelsen taking fourth place and fending off a charging Sebastien Ogier.
The next event will take place on the tarmac of Rally Deutschland starting on August 22nd and concluding on August 25th.
WRC Rally Finland results:
- Ott Tanak
- Esapekka Lappi
- Jari-Matti Latvala
- Andreas Mikkelsen
- Sebeastien Ogier
WRC Championship standings:
- Ott Tanak – 180 points
- Sebastien Ogier – 158 points
- Thierry Neuville – 155 points
- Elfyn Evans – 78 points
- Andreas Mikkelsen – 71 points