Hyundai’s turnaround from its disappointing Monte Carlo Rally to record a 1-2-4 finish – the same as Toyota scored on round one – on Arctic Rally Finland was commendable, and testament to all that work within the walls of Alzenau.
But it’s certainly not unfair to say that this triumphant comeback wasn’t expected; not on round two at least. That’s not to belittle Hyundai Motorsport, but ever since Toyota returned to the World Rally Championship in 2017 it had never been beaten in Finland.
Largely, this is because the Yaris WRC was born on Finnish roads and a strong backbone of the team is Finnish. Making a rally car go fast on the world championship’s fastest roads is what, arguably, Toyota does best.
It is worth remembering here though that the Yaris WRC hasn’t suddenly become uncompetitive – it won four stages to the i20 Coupe’s six. And there were certain stages where the Yaris was clearly the package to have, but across the board the team didn’t look as comfortable as was expected.
Of course, Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans experienced the worst of the conditions on Friday as the first two cars into the snowy tests, but Thierry Neuville was just one car behind and didn’t struggle as much; he was able to go on the offensive on Saturday as Evans’s momentum stalled.
So did Toyota get it wrong last week?
Kalle Rovanperä – the would-be winner according to the pundits – suggested to DirtFish that Toyota’s issues lay with its pre-event test location.
“Now I can see that maybe our test roads were not so optimal, we had more of these technical sections that we didn’t have in the test,” he told DirtFish on Saturday.
“It was quite a struggle this day to get it better but I think after the rally we have to investigate what we did wrong in the test and why the balance was so off. For sure if you just drive well and you’re not fast enough it’s always difficult and like I felt this rally I was really doing a good job on many stages but we were just not on the pace.”
Fresh from securing second place and moving into the points lead, Rovanperä added: “The issue was quite simple, like I said all the time the balance of the car was not perfect and I was having understeering issues.
“That’s why you lose some time in the places. You cannot really push harder to get it back, because you just lose it sometimes. That is something that we need to investigate and find out how we can have the perfect car.
“We tried to do something, and it could have got better for sure. But like today also it’s not perfect, but you can manage with it and it’s always a bit risky to do big changes in the rally so it’s not good to change anything big.
“We couldn’t have the car perfect, but hopefully we can find out the problem and get it sorted.”
Team-mate Evans agreed with Rovanperä in that Toyota’s testing “maybe wasn’t ideal” but pointed to the unexpectedly warmer temperatures on rally week as a caveat that couldn’t be helped.
“We tested quite locally to here and it just so happened that the week we were testing it was -30C. Nobody could predict that,” he told DirtFish.
“You could have also come here for the rally and it be -30C so it’s very difficult to get everything perfect. If you had a crystal ball let’s say to know what the temperatures would be it perhaps would be a bit easier to plan.”
Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala could also see Rovanperä’s point:
“Yeah we spoke with Kalle with that and it seems that we had roads which were fast with short corners but we should have had stages where you have long, long corners, fast corners with the fourth, fifth, sixth gear corners because these are the areas where the differences are made here and this is very typical here in Lapland. They have the long, long fast corners.”
Latvala confirmed the team would be debriefing to understand why Rovanperä lost confidence in the rally, confessing “something was maybe a little bit wrong” but he stressed that he will allow everyone time to “breathe” after the rally before diving into the issue.
Hyundai has closed its gap to Toyota down to 11 points, having been 32 adrift in the manufacturers’ standings after the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, but Latvala refuses to hit the panic button.
“We came to our home rally hoping to be able to actually win here. We didn’t win, Mr Tänak did a great drive and took the victory,” Latvala said.
“But still I need to be satisfied for Kalle who did a very, very good performance and managed to maintain the second position in the rally, winning the powerstage, bringing the maximum manufacturer points from the powerstage and points for himself.
“We are still leading both championships so we can be satisfied but of course we were hoping more.
“But you can’t win every rally.”