Estonia wins Gravel Grand Prix: Tanak takes 2022 Rally Finland title

August 11, 2022

Written by: Chris Hosie

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Last time out in Estonia. Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera took another victory in his pursuit of his first ever world title. Would he take another commanding win on his home soil? Or could any of the other top chargers in the Rally1 class steal his thunder?

This years Rally Finland would take place over 22 of the fastest and most iconic stages in all of Rallying. The crowds were out in force as ever for the annual Gravel Grand Prix. As the natives call it. The first action took place on Thursday with a blast round the mixed tarmac and gravel spectator stage of Harju. After much high speed action from the new Rally1 machines. It was Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, once again, steeling the show on the events opening test. Not to be outdone, WRC2 contender Josh McErlean tried to get his rally of to a rapid start. he almost rolled it after clipping a hay bail. But survived his two wheel antics.

Friday dawned and it was the same story again for the rally’s early leader. Neuville lost the lead on the first stage of the day and would again struggle to keep pace with the leading runners. In fact he would end the day in seventh place. However, the Belgian would again show his “never give up” style as the weekend rolled on.  Speaking of rolling, Norwegian star Oliver Solberg was, immediately, on the attack on SS2. But he attacked a bit too hard and crashed out of the event. After rolling his Hyundai. He and his co-driver emerged unscaved but it was another bitter lesson to learn from these fast and unforgiving stages. Having crashed out in his WRC2 car last year.

Back at the front, Estonia’s Ott Tanak was a man on a mission on Friday. He stormed into the lead on SS2 and would defend that all the way to the end of the day. taking a few stage wins along the way. He was under pressure from the Toyotas all through the day. Esapekka Lappi took victory on SS3 and briefly took the lead only to loose it to Tanak on SS4. The Fin would keep the Estonian in his sights to end the day just 3.8 seconds behind the Hyundai driver.

Championship Leader, Kalle Rovanpera, would spend the day in the top four. Mostly battling his chief rival in the title fight and finish the day in fourth. Elfyn Evans would round out the day in third place. A podium result ahead of his teammate could prove crucial come the business end of the season. Taka Katsuta had a rather comfortable day. taking sixth place on the overnight leaderboard. the Japanese star had also been in a battle. This one for fifth place.

The man who was now in fifth was Ireland’s Craig Breen. he and his M-Sport Ford Puma were on fire during the day. managing to keep the leading four in sight and holding off Katsuta. Gus Greensmith also had a fairly steady day. he would be ninth on the overnight standings. Also going well despite being of the past of the leaders was Pierre Louis Loubet he was in the top.  It wasn’t all joy at the Ford camp.

Adrien Fourmaux had a real day to forget. He had a couple of moments in the morning loop. Then further issues with his Fords performance would see him end the day 38th overall. A full 19 minutes of the leaders. Rally1 debutant and current WRC2 contender, Jari Huttunen, struggled with his new beast during the day. One of the most serious was a problem with the Pumas fuel pressure. He was stuck near the bottom of the top 20. As Friday came to an end.

Things may not have been going entirely Finland’s way in Rally1. But they were going very well in WRC2. Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen stormed away in the lead of the class after taking an early lead on Thursday. As well as being 10th in the overall standings. It was a truly masterful performance from the former M-Sport WRC driver. Emil Lindholm made it a Finnish 1, 2 with his Skoda Fabia chasing the I20 Rally2 in second. New Zealand’s Haydon Paddon was also on fine form. Finishing the day in sixth place in class.  

Martin Prokop was also going well in the top 15 of the class in his privateer Fiesta Rally2. And a shout out to Junior championship and WRC3 star, Sami Pajari. He would end the day in fourth place in the WRC2 standings. There were two names absent from the event in WRC2. Nikolay Gryazin was a non-starter after crashing out during shakedown. Along with Georg Linnamae who a withdrawn his ALM Motorsport VW Polo from the event.

In WRC3, Lauri Joona was also giving the Finnish crowd something to cheer about. He was in command in the WRC3 division. Far ahead of his closest competition by well over a minute. Tommi Heino couldn’t say the same. He crashed out on SS3 and had his rally on home soil cut bitterly short.

Saturday soon came and it was another great driver from Tanak. He kept his lead all through the day in an impressive display of driving and talent. Holding of the charging Fins in their Toyotas that were chasing the Hyundai like angry cats chasing a mischievous Field Mouse. That was the case for Rovanpera and Lappi. Who for most of the day were also chasing each other. Lappi was determined to keep his second place and it seemed he would do just that. Until the penultimate stage of the day, SS17. Rovanpera passed his fellow countryman and was now free to chase down Tanak. Who would finish the day with a now 5 second lead.

Rovanpera’s Saturday charge had also demoted his Welsh teammate, Evans, to fourth. Despite the Welshman’s best efforts to keep up with his Finnish born teammates. Katsuta also had a fight on his hands. He was not only trying to get past Breen in front but he had to keep a now hard charging Neuville behind. This effort came to naught as the Belgian stormed past the Japanese star and was now free to hunt down the leaders.

Breen was also going well on Staurday. Then he made Neuville’s job of chasing the leaders easier. He got a little crossed up on a jump on SS14 and smashed onto a concealed rock in a banking. Ripping the right rear wheel clean off the Puma. His rally was done. This also helped his teammate Greensmith. He would finish the day in seventh place overall. Neuville was now up to fifth and Katsuta was back in sixth place. while WRC debutante Huttunen was now up to 13th. Loubet was also still going well. But still had a lot of ground to make up.

WRC2 saw Teemu Suninen extend his lead over the rest of the chasing pack. With he And Lindholm exchanging times all through the morning. Lindholm would end the day still in second. Despite having a drama on SS15 that required both he and his co-driver to perform a manual recovery and restart of the Fabia. Paddon was also on a charge on Saturday. He would finish the day fourth in class making this one of the finest events of his WRC return.

Prokop was still in with a shout of a possible top 10 result and former WRC star Freddy Loix was also on course for a great result. Not just overall but another victory in the WRC2 Masters class. Another driver set for a fantastic result was Ego Kaur. He was now in third and looked set for a podium result on the most iconic of World Rally Championship events. Further down the order, in the top 15, Josh McErlean and Gaurav Gill were also on course to finishing this legendary event. Other notable drivers going well in the top eight in class included the fifth and sixth placed Fins of Teemu Asunmaa and Eerik Pietarinen. With Fabrizio Zaldivar in eighth place.

In WRC3, Joona’s lead looked untouchable as Saturday ended. Jan Cerny was a long way back in second. But he had a greater advantage over the third place contender, Finland’s Henri Timonen. Fellow Fin, Toni Herranen, rounded out the remaining WRC3 runners in fourth.

Sunday would prove to be the most dramatic day for the top 3. Ott Tanak started the day with his lead still intact. Over the final four tests, he would make his lead almost seven seconds and hold of a charging Rovanpera to claim victory of the 2022 edition of Rally Finland. By just 6.8 seconds. Rovanpera would come a strong second, taking the five bonus points on the Wolf Power stage, with his teammate Lappi coming third. This result almost didn’t happen for the Fin. As he rolled his Toyota on SS21. He thankfully kept going but without his front windscreen. However he and his co-driver compensated for this with a set of awesome looking ski goggles that they wore on the last stage.

Evans came fourth with Neuville and Katsuta rounding out the top six. Gus Greensmith would end the event in seventh place with Huttunen, Fourmaux and a restarting Breen rounding out the top 10 in Rally1. However the remaining 3 Pumas finished well outside the overall top 10. With further bad luck striking Pierre Loubet. He would retire on the final stage of the rally with an electrical issue.

WRC2 saw a dramatic ending to a truly awesome showing from the championships premiere support class. Teemu Suninen showed another masterful performance by cruising to victory on his home event. With Lindholm coming second. However, it was found the Huttunen’s car had an underweight front bumper. This resulted in a stunning disqualification. Allowing Lindholm to claim a surprise victory on home turf. A truly incredible result. This allowed Egon Kaur to claim second place and Haydon Paddon got an astonishing third. Zaldivar took a seventh place finish. With Prokop, Loix and Sami Pajari rounded out the top 10. Asunmaa and Pietarinen came home fourth and fifth respectively.

Gill got 11th and McErlean got 13th. Pajari’s 10th place was a terrific result on his WRC2 debut and Freddy Loix was also celebrating on Sunday. He was the Master Division winner. Lindholm also took victory in the WRC2 Junior division along with his surprise overall class triumph.  

WRC3 saw Lauri Joona take a commanding victory on home turf ahead of Jan Cerny in second. With Timonen rounding out the podium spots in third place.

In the championship standings. Rovanpera still leads with 198 points. Tanak now moves to second with his win. Demoting his teammate Neuville to third by one point. 104 points for the Estonian, 103 for the Belgian.

WRC2 sees Andreas Mikkelsen lead by four points ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz in the overall class standings. Emil Lindholm now jumps ahead of Chris Ingram and Nikolay Gryazin in the WRC2 Junior standing. In the WRC2 Masters, Freddy Loix moves into second. 21 points behind division leader, Mauro Miele.

In WRC3 Joona’s victory takes him to within one point of class leader Sami Pajari. With the second half of the season still to be run.

That’s a wrap from WRC Rally Finland. The Gravel Grand Prix once again proving to be as fast and Furious as ever. Now the whole WRC circus moves on to the next stop. Rally Ypres in Belgium, Neuville’s own back yard. Can the Belgian sensation het his season back on track on his native Asphalt? Or will Rovanpera claim another victory to add to his incredible tally? Find out when the WRC returns on the 18th of August. As the worlds finest rally drivers take on the challenge of the Ypres tarmac.


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