Hyundai Motorsport’s Ott Tanak has drawn level with some of the World Rally Championship’s most decorated drivers from the last 50 years by claiming a third victory at Secto Rally Finland alongside Martin Jarveoja.
The Estonian joins Sebastien Loeb, Jari-Matti Latvala and Juha Kankkunen on a hat-trick of wins at an event famous for its super-fast forest roads, monster jumps and blind crests. Behind the wheel of an errant handling I20 N Rally1, he matched Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kalle Rovanpera blow-for-blow on today’s closing leg to secure top spot by 6.8 seconds.
In what was arguably one of his most standout performances in the sport’s top division to date, the 2019 World Rally Champion safely negotiated two passes of ‘Oittila’ and ‘Ruuhimaki’ on Sunday to seal the win. Tanak – who dedicated his second success of the current campaign to his wife – could not afford to ease up after interim team boss Julien Moncet warned on Saturday evening that second was “not an option”.
“This is a special victory, no question,” said Tanak. “There have been quite a few wins in my career – but this is definitely up there with the best. I can’t say I am completely happy with the performance of the car, but we were still able to set good pace. This result shows that with some hard work there are chances to perform well, so we need to continue making improvements. This gives us hope,” he added.
The Estonian went “full gas” on Sunday’s opener and continued to push hard on the final three tests despite Rovanpera insisting he was not prepared to match his speed and run the risk of throwing away his weekend’s work just for the sake of celebrating from the podium’s top step on home soil.
21-year-old Rovanpera did record the fastest time on the end-of-rally Power Stage, however, to collect five additional points and make the likelihood of him lifting a maiden drivers’ crown all the more likely with only five rounds of the season remaining as he stretched his lead by 94 points. His cause was boosted by title rival Thierry Neuville enduring another nightmare weekend as set-up issues with his Hyundai ensured he was never in a position to challenge the top two.
A bad compression after dropping a wheel into a rut on the penultimate stage which resulted in his car rolling three times forced third-placed Esapekka Lappi to perform some hasty roadside repairs to get him to the finish in Jyvaskyla. These included patching up the car’s leaking radiator and topping it up with lake water, and removing the badly shattered windscreen that required the crew to don safety goggles to protect their eyes from dust and dirt.
Despite all of this, and the absence of a rear spoiler for downforce, the Finn only dropped 10 seconds on the last stage to beat his Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans by 16.9 seconds. Overnight changes to the GR Yaris Rally1 of Takamoto Katsuta helped him to sixth and extended his run of completing every round in the points.
Ireland’s Craig Breen returned on Sunday under Super Rally rules having retired 24 hours earlier when he damaged the right rear corner on his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 and bagged four Power Stage points to ensure he did not leave round eight empty handed.