Thu 28 Jul 2022

Rally rewind: Finland 2021

After a year’s absence, one of the jewels in the FIA World Rally Championship’s crown was back. It was different to normal but that didn’t matter. We reflect on a brilliant three days in the forests around Jyväskylä.

2. Estonia redemption
Victory was little more than a dream for the Welshman as he laboured to fifth place 11 weeks earlier on similar superfast roads in Estonia. He trailed home more than two minutes adrift of record-breaking team-mate Kalle Rovanperä then.

Evans turned the tables on Rovanperä in Finland. The home hero’s 21st birthday celebrations ended on a sour note when he dropped out of the victory battle after smashing into an earth pile on the second leg and badly damaging the front of his Yaris.

“This one feels good in the way we managed to do it,” smiled Evans afterwards. “We struggled a lot [on the fast roads] in Estonia and we made some changes to the car in the test and found some confidence early on.”

1. Sublime Evans
Victory at any WRC round is a magnificent achievement. Winning in Finland, which as the oft-used tag goes, is regarded as the spiritual home of rallying, is even more special. Triumphing there when you were born outside Suomi’s borders can be the crowning glory in a career.

For Elfyn Evans, his fifth and most recent success was a masterpiece in precision driving, bravery and good old-fashioned determination, tenacity and resilience. Or sisu as the locals there call it.

A stunning series of five back-to-back speed test wins on Friday night and Saturday morning propelled the Welshman from fifth to first. He survived intense pressure from Ott Tänak and Craig Breen across the rest of the rally to win by 14.1sec in a Toyota Yaris.

The icing on the cake was maximum bonus points for winning the closing Wolf Power Stage over the stomach-churning jumps of Ruuhimäki.

3. Toyota steamroller continues
Evans’ Toyota Gazoo Racing team is based near Jyväskylä and victory preserved its unbeaten Finland record since returning to the WRC in 2017.

Esapekka Lappi claimed his sole WRC win that season before Tänak bagged back-to-back triumphs in 2018 and 2019. The 2020 fixture was cancelled as the world continued to battle the effects of Covid-19.

4. Picture postcards
For reasons associated with the pandemic, the rally was held two months later than normal with Finland’s autumn well and truly set. Cooler temperatures, wetter roads and less grip on slippery gravel were all hazards that drivers expected to counter.

What visitors hadn’t anticipated was the backdrop of stunning autumnal colours in the forests around Jyväskylä, which made the rally a delight for photographers, camera crews and fans.

5. Finland goes to the dark side
Driving in the dark in Finland is rare. So rare, in fact, that Friday’s closing Oittila stage was the rally’s first night test since 1994.

Finland’s location in northern Europe means the sun doesn’t set until 10pm on the event’s traditional summer slot. Last year was different and Breen shone in the blackness to grab the first day lead from team-mate Tänak in a gripping forest finale.

With his i20’s auxiliary lights blazing on the tree-lined roads, the Irishman overturned a 1.5sec deficit to unseat Tänak by 2.8sec. The Estonian had led for all but one of the opening five speed tests and just 7.9sec blanketed the top five after a frantic Friday.

“I always wondered how it would feel in the dark and it definitely lived up to expectations,” Breen enthused.

• Full coverage from Secto Rally Finland will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

Video: Secto Rally Finland 2021 review
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