Toyota’s winning run on Rally Finland may have continued into 2021, but it didn’t start last weekend’s rally with a winning car. It only finished it with one.
In fact, against previous form, Hyundai’s i20 Coupe WRC was the World Rally Car to have through Friday’s stages as Craig Breen and Ott Tänak finished the day 1-2.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier ended Friday in sixth place and 33.6 seconds back with “not much explanation” for his time loss.
The next day it was Esapekka Lappi’s turn to drop time in one of the Yaris WRCs, and he said he was “lacking a lot of mechanical grip”, pointing out how the Hyundais were suffering from more tire wear.
But the longer-wheelbase vehicles also got the soft compound tires into their ideal temperature window in the cool, fall air quicker and therefore were getting that grip on the gravel.
“Clearly it’s easy to say we made something wrong on the test but I will not take the blame because I had something else to think on the test to be honest,” Lappi said to DirtFish, before adding “we will make some crazy changes” to his car.
What was on the cards to change? The differentials, the dampers, springs, the clutch, possibly even more because Ogier and Elfyn Evans revealed further details about just how far Toyota had to go to win in Finland.
Ogier went from being sixth-fastest at best to actually rivalling the stage winners by the end of Saturday, and knew why.
The right pieces of the puzzle, it's coming really from the driver, and we just need to provide him with the elementsJari-Matti Latvala
“A set-up change [helped me], it made the car really different and really more enjoyable to drive, more confident and the times were quite OK,” he said to DirtFish. “At least I have some answers now from the start of the rally.”
Evans was constantly tweaking his car through Friday from the set-up he’d chosen after the pre-event test, where a lesson had been learned in starting with a Rally Estonia-inspired set-up and then having to work backwards to then work forwards again on Finland’s demand.
From Saturday morning, Evans “really started to feel like we made another step with the car and I really started to feel comfortable” as he raced into the lead of the event.
Toyota had already lost Arctic Rally Finland earlier this year to its test road choice, and put itself on the back foot with the same issue elsewhere. DirtFish put that to team principal Jari-Matti Latvala after Evans’ victory, given it was harder than it should have been for a car born on Finnish roads.
“I don’t think we really saw that [repeated] because if you win the rally, we can’t say that we have done a bad test,” he replied, referencing the fact Hyundai won the Arctic with Tänak.
“But [in terms of] test roads, everybody had a different test road, and eventually the set-up is very close to each other but then there are some little amusements which are different, and finding the puzzle, I would say, the right pieces of the puzzle, it’s coming really from the driver, and we just need to provide him with the elements so that he can find those, and it seems that we somehow didn’t necessarily find them.
“Maybe we should have focused in some other areas and we are already discussing with the engineers that probably we need to ask more from the driver what he wants.”
While Evans won, the ultimate cost of Toyota’s set-up quandary was two of its drivers crashing out while trying to drive around their discomfort.