Hyundai’s Ott Tanak hung on to his slender lead to win the Rally of Finland on Sunday, seeing off the challenge of world championship leader Kalle Rovanpera.
Tanak, who led from the seond stage of the rally, went into the final day with an 8.4sec lead over his Finnish rival.
He won just one of Sunday’s four special stages but that was enough to give the Estonian victory by 6.8 seconds ahead of Toyota driver Rovanpera who won the other three.
Another Finn, Esapekka Lappi, also driving a Toyota, finished third over a minute behind to complete the podium in spite of rolling his car in the penultimate stage.
“It was a very good, very positive weekend,”Tanak said after the race.
“The Toyota guys gave me some help on Friday at the beginning and since then we saw a chance, some light at the end of the tunnel, and we were pushing from there.”
After eight rounds of the championship, 21-year-old Rovanpera stands clear at the top, having won five rallies this year.
He now has 198 points, almost twice as many as Tanak (104), who takes over second place from his Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville, who could only finish fifth.
It is Tanak’s third victory in Finland after 2018 and 2019, the year he became world champion with Toyota before leaving for Hyundai. It is his second win this year, after Sardinia, and the 16th of his career in the WRC.
Tanak hit the gravel running on Sunday, winning the opening stage to take the wind out of Rovanpera’s sails as the 21-year-old set out to cut away the lead.
They hit the same time in the next stage before Tanak eased off to protect his lead. The young Finn also played the last two stages conservatively, not wanting to risk a second place that tightens his grip on the world title.
“Of course I wanted to win at home, but I still think it’s a good result, after having to sweep the track on Friday,” said Rovanpera.
Lappi made a mistake in SS21 when he was hanging on to third place. He arrived at the stage finish with a cracked radiator, a smashed windscreen and the rear wing ripped off.
He patched up the Toyota’s radiator ahead of the last stage, filling it with water from a nearby lake, and took off with no front windscreen, his eyes and vision protected only by ski goggles.
It was a well-deserved third place, finishing just ahead of another Toyota driver, the Welshman Elfyn Evans.
The next round takes place in 10 days time on tarmac around Ypres, Belgium where home favourite Neuville will be eager to rake back some points, although it seems unlikely that he or Tanak will be able to prevent an historic first title for Rovanpera.