With just three rounds left of the World Rally Championship season, it’s looking increasingly likely that Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia will secure an eighth title together.
Rally Finland presents them with the first chance this year to seal the deal, but the Toyota crew would need a lot of favorable circumstances in order to achieve it this early.
This is rallying however, and truly anything can happen. But if we take a simplistic, on-paper view on proceedings, who should we expect to see fighting at the front?
Here’s DirtFish’s form guide to 2021 Rally Finland.
#1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 3rd-5th-4th
Last 3 Finland results: 5th-5th-DNF
As we’ve already highlighted, Ogier heads to Finland with his first mathematical shot of securing an eighth world championship crown and second with Toyota. But to do that he would need to outscore Elfyn Evans by 16 points, Thierry Neuville by 10 and Kalle Rovanperä by nine.
It theoretically could happen, but Finland has never been Ogier’s strongest event. Although he won the rally back in 2013 for Volkswagen, his last podium was all the way back in 2015 and his most recent collection of results are no greater than a pair of fifth places.
But Ogier has never been to Jyväskylä with a Yaris WRC – a car that was born and raised on these roads – at his fingertips. That could be just the difference in transforming Ogier into a bona fide podium challenger this week.
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 7th(1st WRC2)-10th(1st WRC2)-4th
Last 3 Finland results: 2nd-DNF-1st
For the first time since the Monza Rally last December, Esapekka Lappi is in a World Rally Car. There’s really no better place for him to do it either than in his native Finland.
Aside from an accident in 2018, Lappi has been electric in Finland. He finished second in 2019 during what was otherwise a rather fruitless season with Citroën, and of course claimed that emphatic victory in 2017 on just his fourth start in a World Rally Car.
Lappi will be back in a Toyota this year after two startling victories in WRC2 earlier this season. While it’s a private deal and neither Lappi nor Toyota is applying any pressure, this is the perfect audition, with Lappi hotly tipped to share a third factory car with Ogier next season.
Can he win? Absolutely. Will he? Lack of top-level seat time could prove a hurdle too great to overcome considering his ultra-competitive opposition.
#8 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-6ht-31st
Last 3 Finland results: 1st-1st-7th
In terms of Rally Finland form, no rival can match Ott Tänak. With two wins from the last two editions, Tänak has made the Finnish stages his own.
But in terms of 2021 WRC form, it’s a far less predictable picture. Tänak’s pace has never been in question, but the consistency of his equipment has dragged the season out for the 2019 World Champion and denied him the chance to fight on all stages and on all rallies.
The Hyundai was rapid on the WRC’s other trip north this year, Arctic Rally Finland, where Tänak won, but the team has bizarrely never scored a podium on the traditional Rally Finland before.
Putting that right will surely be Tänak’s target.
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 8th-1st-3rd
Last 3 Finland results: 6th-9th-6th
Thierry Neuville’s run of Finland results perfectly illustrates the point about Hyundai’s depressing Finland form – particularly under this current set of regulations, which began in 2017.
Neuville is an accomplished driver in Finland as he finished second to Ogier back in 2013 with M-Sport, but it hasn’t ever strung together for him since. He heads to Jyväskylä off the back of another title setback in Greece, but has been there or thereabouts on all rallies this season.
He recently declared that both his and Hyundai’s world championship hopes are all-but buried, but absolutely do not expect Neuville to drive as though that’s the case this week.
#16 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 7th-DNF-12th (4th in WRC2)
Last 3 Finland results: 23rd (5th in RC4)
It would be harsh to claim that the bubble has burst around Adrien Fourmaux, but now that he has a clearer run at the second M-Sport World Rally Car drive with Teemu Suninen’s exit, there’s growing expectation on his shoulders to perform.
Finland could be his toughest challenge yet at the top level of the WRC though. Fourmaux, competing in just his fifth season of rallying at any level, has only contested Rally Finland once back in 2019 with an R2 car. And he’s yet to do what’s considered a ‘fast’ rally in the Fiesta WRC either.
As if that wasn’t enough, he’ll be working with a new co-driver too in Alexandre Coria. Just how quickly this new team can get to grips with each other and their surroundings could define the success of their weekend.
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: DNS-DNF-DNF
Last 3 Finland results: DNF-DNF-DNF
Another to be competing with a new co-driver, Takamoto Katsuta will be happy just to be starting this rally having suffered a wretched run of form since his maiden WRC podium back on Safari Rally Kenya in June.
Pinching the services of Aaron Johnston from Oliver Solberg for this event, Katsuta should at least be suited to Finland given his rallying experience in the country (ignore the terrible form suggested by his previous results).
Katsuta is however low on recent miles, having not been able to start the Acropolis Rally as Keaton Williams had to fly home immediately for personal reasons, and he only managed to get through half of the Ypres Rally as well with a heavy crash on the second day.
Johnston is a new voice and person to work with, but it’s Katsuta’s third co-driver of the year so adapting to this process shouldn’t be too major a hurdle.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 6th-4th-5th
Last 3 Finland results: 7th-2nd-11th (3rd WRC2)
Elfyn Evans’ WRC form is on a bit of a wane. He hasn’t featured on the podium since June and hasn’t won since May. He’s now gamely clinging on in a title fight even he knows he’s unlikely to win, so the goal will simply be to score as well as he can for his own self confidence as much as anything else.
But not feeling quite at one with his Yaris has been a consistent theme of the 2021 season, so all efforts will have been put into ensuring this isn’t the case again on his pre-event test at the weekend.
Finland has been quite kind to Evans in the past. Although he missed the 2019 event due to a back injury on Rally Estonia – when it was a WRC promotional event – he scored a superb second in 2017 against a swarm of Finns.
#42 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 2nd-2nd-8th
Last 3 Finland results: 7th-8th-5th
Craig Breen is a bit of a hype machine at the moment. Mention his name to any rallying fan, and they’ll get excited. Part of that is because of the ongoing speculation about where he will drive in 2022, but a lot of it is also down to his scintillating form on the stages.
Second on the Ypres Rally was preceded by second in Estonia, and Breen was a legitimate victory contender both times. His Estonian form is perhaps more pertinent given the similarity between that event and Finland, but no matter where Breen goes these days he seems to have a spring in his step.
He’s one of the few frontrunning drivers in the WRC to have not won a rally this year. Ticking that off his to-do list could be tricky in Finland, but it won’t be for the want of trying.
#44 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (Ford Fiesta WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 5th-47th-32nd
Last 3 Finland results: DNF-13th (3rd WRC2)-32nd (8th WRC2)
Gus Greensmith is in a strange vein of form at the moment as his driving has been solid, but little gremlins and errors have prevented the good results from consistently rolling in.
Two years ago he made an unexpected start in a WRC car, deputizing for the injured Elfyn Evans, but this year he arrives far more used to the equipment. However M-Sport has struggled for form on fast rallies of late, so this night not be the most prolific of showings from Greensmith.
#69 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC)
Last 3 WRC results: 1st-3rd-1st
Rally Finland results: 9th (1st WRC2 Pro)-14th (4th WRC2)
The one everybody will be watching – Kalle Rovanperä – is riding the crest of a magnificent wave right now. Since winning his first WRC rally two months ago in Estonia, he punched in a superb third in Ypres and another assured win on the Acropolis.
Regardless of the setting, Rovanperä would be a favorite for victory this weekend. But the fact he’s heading home to Finland only serves to reinforce that billing.
Rovanperä turns 21 on the first day of the rally, but his recent form has proved he has already come of age in the WRC. He has never competed on Rally Finland in a World Rally Car, but that’s unlikely to stop him.
On pure pace, Rovanperä will absolutely be a victory contender. The question is whether he can have a trouble-free run and give Finland its first home victory in four years, rather than whether he has the minerals to do so.