The World Rally Championship title race was revitalized on Rally Finland last weekend, and it also breathed life into the prospects of several drivers who are still looking for their place in the service park for 2022.
If there’s any rally in the world to put a career-defining performance in, then Finland is the one. It’s sometimes known as the ‘Gravel Grand Prix’, and this was the send-off on the loose stuff for the World Rally Car era.
Here are Colin Clark’s takes on who made the most of their final fling through the trees in the fastest of cars:
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Elfyn Evans 10/10
Rally Finland result: 1st
To win in Finland is always some achievement, but to win in Finland when you are slap bang in the middle of a worryingly perplexing dip in form and your confidence has taken hit after hit is remarkable. Oh, and you can add to that the handicap of running second on the road for the opening day.
This was without doubt the performance of Evans’ career by quite some stretch. It was also a timely reminder to those who were suggesting that the Welshman’s championship charge last year was a flash in the pan that Evans is truly a world class competitor.
He drove fearlessly and peerlessly throughout the weekend to reignite his championship challenge. A truly outstanding performance that is right up there with the finest drives seen over Finland’s legendary stages.
Esapekka Lappi 8/10
Rally Finland result: 4th
The best part of 10 months away and the pressure of driving for a career-resurrecting second coming as a Toyota factory driver didn’t seem to faze the prodigiously talented Lappi.
For me he’s one of rallying’s great unfulfilled talents, but could this performance be the one that perhaps allows him to at last to show the watching world the true depths of his mercurial talents?
According to Toyota team boss Latvala, Lappi passed the audition with flying colours.
I thought his performance was full of guts and extreme bravery. OK, so he didn’t find the ultimate pace of the top boys but his performance in the almost complete darkness of SS6 was breath-taking and one of the highlights of the weekend.
Sébastien Ogier 5/10
Rally Finland result: 5th
A strangely muted performance for the championship leader as he never really found any pace at all over the weekend. A third-fastest time on SS15 was as good as it got for Ogier in what was ultimately a massively frustrating gravel farewell to the current generation of cars. Once again his frustrations at having to run first on the road came to the fore and one or two choice words in stage-end interviews perhaps highlighted a distraction that one can ill afford on stages that demand 100% concentration.
Kalle Rovanperä 4/10
Rally Finland result: 34th
Did the pre-event hype and expectation get too much for Finland’s 21-year-old (as of last Friday) great young hope? I don’t know, but I do know that he was strangely out of sorts more or less from the opening stage.
Often complaining about a lack of grip and an inability to commit totally to high-speed corners, the frustrations eventually got to Rovanperä. He tried to drive through his issues, but ended up planted in a bed of gravel.
Preparation is key in Finland and question marks appeared over his build-up to this one. He will learn and come back stronger, and his time as king of the Finnish yumps will surely come sooner rather than later.
Takamoto Katsuta 3/10
Rally Finland result: 37th
Taka-san has endured a torrid time since scoring a career-high second place on Safari Rally Kenya.
Having his long-time co-driver and mentor Dan Barritt sidelined must have been a blow after a remarkably encouraging start to 2021. The Japanese charger really has to steady the dangerously lurching ship but this was a performance that only fuelled the maelstrom of choppy waters that Katsuta is currently navigating.
There is no question he was just trying too hard and was remarkably lucky to survive a high-speed spin on SS2. His off early on day two had a degree of inevitability to it and we can only hope that Katsuta is able to regroup and reset in the all-too-short period before Rally Spain.
Ott Tänak 9.5/10
Rally Finland result: 2nd
Tänak and Hyundai came to Finland with lots of hope but maybe not quite so much belief. They knew they’d made progress on the faster gravel rallies but Finland is a rally where Hyundai have been nothing short of woeful in the past. Eight stage wins in six years didn’t bode well for the Korean team.
But Tänak took to the stages with a noticeably different demeanour to the abrasive one we’ve had to get used to over the past 18 months. And the more relaxed Tänak rose to the challenge of banishing Hyundai’s Finland woes magnificently. He was committed and brave in equal measures and wrung every last ounce of pace out of his i20 Coupe WRC to keep the pressure on Evans right through to the end of the event.
Craig Breen 9/10
Rally Finland result: 3rd
I’ve said it so many times, but what Breen continues to achieve really shouldn’t be possible.
Anyone who knows anything about competing in these incredibly demanding cars will tell you that consistent seat time is the only way to achieve any degree of success at rallying’s highest level.
Well Breen just keeps on debunking that line of thought and delivering world-class performances and podiums as a part-time driver. Day one in Finland was as good a day as Breen has had in the championship.
He couldn’t quite find that extra half-percent needed to live with the pace of Tänak and Evans after but that should in no way detract from what was a magnificent performance.
According to his team boss Andrea Adamo this was probably Breen’s farewell with Hyunadai and I for one find that truly perplexing. Could he have done more to earn a chance at a full-time seat with the team next year? I don’t think so.
Thierry Neuville 3/10
Rally Finland result: Ret
Neuville just can’t seem to get to grips with this event. Even before his still slightly mysterious retirement on SS14 the Belgian was struggling. Sadly, that seems to increasingly be the norm here in Finland for Thierry. A career-best second place on this event in a Ford way back in 2013 is very much a dim and distant memory now and you have to question whether perhaps Neuville’s driving style just isn’t suited to the challenges of the Finnish stages?
Gus Greensmith & Adrien Fourmaux 5/10
Rally Finland result: 6th & 7th
I’ve never lumped two drivers together in my ratings before but I really am struggling to come up with anything different or differentiating about the M-Sport pair’s performances.
Both were miles off the pace of the frontrunners but we all understand the limitations under which these two talented young drivers are competing right now.
Every single spare penny is going into the development of the 2022 car and with no testing ,and clear instructions to bring the cars home in one piece, what more could we have expected? Miles driven are never miles wasted and with both M-Sport cars completing all 178 of them on this event so that is one positive to surely take forward into next year.