Why has Toyota struggled on a rally it was expected to win?

Toyota was odds-on favorite to win the first Arctic Rally Finland WRC round, but it's been chasing Hyundai all weekend


There’s no escaping the fact that Toyota was favorite for victory on Arctic Rally Finland, yet it has played second-best to Hyundai on the World Rally Championship’s first visit to the Arctic Circle.

Of course, the rally is not done. Two stages remain on Sunday and anything can still happen. And don’t forget, both Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans stand a chance of beating a Hyundai to a key position. But world champion Sébastien Ogier’s snowbank exploration on Saturday’s final stage rather typified Toyota’s weekend.

Of the eight stages so far it has won just two of them. Hyundai has its three works cars all inside the top four, and of course Ogier is out of points-scoring contention after his final stage mishap.


Ogier crashes on final corner of Saturday stages

The WRC points leader spent 20 minutes in a snowbank and then retired, but returns on Sunday

Team principal Jari-Matti Latvala is just as baffled as the rest of us, and admitted to DirtFish that “it hasn’t been the event which we were anticipating” on Saturday evening.

“We have been strong on some of the stages, we have been strong on some of the sections in this rally so we haven’t been all the time behind the Hyundais,” he said.

But on roads that the Yaris WRC was honed on, the expectation was not that the i20 Coupe WRC would turn up in town and boss proceedings.

“We can clearly see there have been stages where we are strong but it’s been too much up and down so yes, we need to evaluate, we need to collect the data now and together think what we did wrong,” added Latvala.

I felt this rally I was really doing a good job on many stages but we were just not on the pace. Kalle Rovanperä on Toyota's struggles to match Hyundai

“I don’t have the answers yet for you but it’s something that we really have to think [about] together after the rally, what we did wrong, how [could] we have been more consistent?”

SS3 Mustalampi was a particular cause for concern for Toyota. Hyundai locked out four of the top five spots on the stage, with only Kalle Rovanperä muscling into the equation – a theme akin to the overall results too.

Evans was only ninth fastest and slower than Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was tasked with opening the road for the rest of the competitors.

“That first stage was obviously an issue first time round but when we came to it the second time round it’s also killed the tires,” Evans said.

Elfyn Evans

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

The waning grip of the tires was a universal problem on the second pass, but again both Evans and Ogier struggled to make an impression on Mustalampi 2, going seventh and eighth fastest respectively.

“I think not being in the best road position [didn’t help] and then we didn’t take enough risk in the middle stage to put the really bad tires on the rear, and we’ve obviously compromised the whole package then to go for the last stage,” added Evans.

“And honestly when the tire started going off I didn’t take enough chance then either to be honest.”

Tactically, Hyundai was perhaps one step ahead too. Thierry Neuville in particular pulled off a masterstroke, beating the next fastest driver by 12.3s on the final stage as he had managed to save a brand-new Pirelli Sottozero tire for the test.

Evans therefore admitted: “They’ve obviously managed much better than I did, that’s the bottom line.”

Although Evans theoretically stands a chance of stealing fourth place from Craig Breen – sitting just 10.1s behind – Rovanperä is Toyota’s beacon of hope for Sunday.

However, the local star will have to work hard to maintain the second position he currently occupies given Neuville’s strong Saturday afternoon pace. The Belgian was quicker than even rally leader Ott Tänak across the loop’s three stages.

Rovanperä has just 1.8s in hand and, although he promised “I will do the best I can” on Sunday to keep his place, he admitted to being disappointed by his lack of pace.

“Like I said before the rally if it [Hyundai’s pace] is coming from somewhere where you really cannot match it – it’s not mistakes or something, you just drive well and you’re not fast enough – it’s always difficult,” he said.

“I felt this rally I was really doing a good job on many stages but we are just not on the pace.”

Kalle Rovanpera

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Latvala added that trying to ensure Rovanperä keeps hold of second will be “priority number one” for Sunday and that the powerstage should “suit his driving style”, and was philosophical about the way Arctic Rally Finland has transpired.

“This is the great part of rallying, sometimes it brings you surprises you don’t want but you have to understand that also there are days when you expect things to be good for you, they are not working like this,” Latvala said.

“This is rallying and this is great about rallying.

“Monte Carlo we had an amazing start, I didn’t expect that. What a great way to start.

“But when there is a rally you think you are strong but you are not, you have to accept that this just can happen sometimes.

“Every day is not the best day in the office.”