Tanak goes two for two on Belgian Asphalt The story of rally Ypres 2022

August 26, 2022

Written by: Chris Hosie

Image Credit: wrc.com

Last time out on rally Finland. Hyundai scored a major victory over their rivals at the Gravel Grand Prix. Could the Toyotas reclaim the advantage? Or would the Korean winning machine prove hard to catch in Belgium.

The 2022 Rally Ypres started early on Friday and it wouldn’t be long before the action got underway. Championship leader, Kalle Rovanpera was the one who set the early pace on SS1. He took victory on the stage and it looked like it would be another Rovanpera Runaway victory. That was, until stage 2, when the Fin went too fast into a left hander. Went wide and hit a small bank that flipped the Toyota over several times. He and his co-driver walked away unharmed but the win was now a shattered dream.

This was very good news for the new top 3. Elfyn Evans was promoted to second place and was in hot pursuit of the new rally leader. However he would drop to third by the end of the first day. the man Evans was battling all through Friday was Ott Tanak. Fresh from success on the gravel in Finland, last time out. He would inherit the lead from Rovanpera and overtake Evans in the process. Mounting a stubborn defense against the Welshman for the majority of the day. Tanak would loose the lead on the seventh stage of the rally to his ultra-fast teammate, Thierry Neuville. The Belgian superstar putting his local knowledge and experience to superb use. Ending the day with the rally lead on home soil after overhauling his teammate on the days penultimate stage. Despite the Belgian Superstar having an overshoot at a junction on SS1.

Also having a magnificent Friday were the Fords of Craig Breen and Adrien Fourmaux. Both would end the day in the top 5 after a very impressive performance on the asphalt. Fourmaux’s pace was also something that everyone was raving about. Even though it lead to a couple of scares with the Ypres countryside. Esapekka Lappi was also going well. However he was struggling to match the pace of the top five runners during the day. Also having a rather difficult Friday was the Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta and the Hyundai Oliver Solberg. The Norwegian struggling to tame his wayward I20s handling and Katsuta was dealing with gearbox issues. Which would occasionally put the car into EV Mode.

If you thought things in the Rally1 class were manic during Friday. It was even more so in the support classes. France’s Stephane Lefebvre would set a blistering pace all through the day. producing the best drive of his season. He couldn’t rest easy though. Not if the Toksport team had something to say about it. Andreas Mikkelsen would finish that day in second. The former WRC star needing a massive result to overhaul the WRC2 class leader in the standings. He was also keeping Lefebvre honest all through the day. However, he was in a Citroen sandwich. Yohan Rossel, though far behind Mikkelsen, was in Third place and keen to ensure his WRC2 championship lead was not reduced by the hard Skoda ahead of him. A thrilling battle was, seemingly, in prospect for both the class lead on track and the lead in the WRC2 standings.

Others going well in the class were the Skoda teammates of Britain’s Chris Ingram, Germany’s Armin Kremer and youngster, Sebastian Bedonet. All three were in prime contention for top 10 results. Ingram would be sixth at the end of the day. with Bedonet and Kremer eighth and ninth respectively. Kremer was also leading the WRC2 Masters class with Ingram second in the WRC2 Junior class. The Junior leader was the Hyundai of Belgium’s Gregoire Munster. Who was also in a prime spot for a top four finish in the overall class. Another driver going well in WRC2 was former F1 driver, Jos Verstappen. The father of Max and a former Benneton star was having a great run in his Red Bull Verstappen Citroen Rally2.

Unfortunately, that story couldn’t be said for others in the WRC2 class. Ireland’s Josh McErlean suffered a massive crash on SS6. Completely wrecking his I20 Hyundai. He and his co-driver were thankfully ok. But the car would need some serious repairs for its next outing. Other star in trouble was Britain’s Neil Simpson. He lost the rear of his Skoda Fabia and would get stuck in a ditch for the best part of six minutes. He would, miraculously get back underway again. Though, with some damage to the Fabia’s rear bumper.

Also in trouble was WRC3 contender, Enrico Brazzoli. He got sucked into a ditch on the same stage as Simpson’s incident and would end the day in an escape road. His rally done for the day. elsewhere in WRC3, the class lead was to be held by Jan Cerny. The Czech star storming into a commanding lead of the class. Something which was becoming a trend with the class leaders in the 2022 WRC3 season.

Saturday soon came and it would prove to be one of the most topsy turvy days in the entire championship campaign. Rovanpera restarted the rally on Staurday and was determined to get back into the top 10. This would not be easy as he was now classed in the top 70 runners. Despite this, he took a couple of stage wins and showed very impressive speed and pace throughout the day. Tanak and Evans resumed their dogfight from the previous day. the battle for the majority of the day was for second as Tanak’s teammate stamped his local authority on the event.

That local Authority was stamped down hard by Thierry Neuville. He extended his lead through the morning and was on track to a much needed victory. One which was guaranteed to bring him renewed chances of taking the title. That prospect looked assured as he further extended the lead during the afternoon. Until SS17, the penultimate stage of the day. When, on a tight left hand corner, the local hero drifted into a ditch and crashed out of the rally lead. Tanak was now back in front. That battle for second was now a fight for the rally win.

Behind all this mayhem, the Fords of Fourmaux and Breen were also going like Blue bats out of hell. Fourmaux would have a terrific day and would finish Saturday in fourth place. a potential podium was ever so tangible. Breen was also going well keeping the top three honest all through the morning. Then, in the afternoon, disaster struck. He got on the marbles on one stage and rolled his Puma out of the event. Another possible podium for Breen, once again, rolling of the board much like his ford on the Saturday timing charts. Also in trouble, this time on SS10, was the Ford of Gus Greensmith. He suffered mechanical issues but would survive the day and eventually the rally. Though it was proving to be another difficult event for the former British Championship graduate.

All this drama allowed others to benefit from the front runners misfortune. Esapekka Lappi would storm up to the top 4 ending the day with a third place. in one of the most spectacular and wild drives of the season. Taka Katsuta was also up into the top 5. His Yaris now cured of its Friday foibles. Oli Solberg was also in a prime sport for a top 5 result. Wrestling his truculent Hyundai to the end of the day and dueling all the way with Katsuta’s Toyota.  

WRC2 saw a terrific scrap for the lead. Andreas Mikkelsen took two stage wins in the morning. Bringing Lefebvre’s 15 second lead down to just five. The Frenchman was quick to respond. Winning the next five stages and extending the lead to 25 seconds. Rossel was still holding onto third place once the day was over. However, he was unable to match the pace of the leading two fighters. Lefebvre was especially hard to catch as he is the current Belgian Championship leader and has competed on these stages for the last few years in both the European and Belgian Championships.

Gregoire Munster was still in fourth place but was coming under attack from a hard charging Chris Ingram. This battle wasn’t just for an overall class result but, at the same time, for top honors in the WRC2 Junior division. Sebastian Bedonet would finish the day in seventh place with Kremer and Loix rounding out the top nine. Kremer was still on top of the Masters division. With Loix struggling to keep up with the former Skoda Deutschland driver.

Other drivers were also going well in the top 10 of WRC2. The VW Polo crew of Vincent Verschueren was in Sixth place. Managing to keep clear of Bedonet behind him. Rounding out the top 10 in class was the Citroen of Dany Vanneste. The young star on his way to scoring his first point on a world championship event.

It wasn’t all joy for some of the class runners. Jos Verstappen was going well during the morning loop. Until he found a ditch and retired on the spot. A disappointing end to a very promising run. Another driver who bit the dust on Saturday and for the event was M-Sport’s Jari Huttunen. He retired with engine trouble on SS9. He would later be joined by the Hyundai of Pieter Jan Michiel Cracco. The privateer finding the scenery on SS11 and that wad the end of his event.

In the WRC3 class, Jan Cerny continued his run of domination. Followed by Zoltan Laszlo and a restarting Enrico Brazzoli. Sami Pajari, though not entered for WRC3 points, would retire from the rally when his Fiesta’s right rear wheel decided to jump ship. Leaving three wheels on the fins wagon.

Sunday dawned and the great battle of Rally Ypres was set to take place. Ott Tanak vs Elfyn Evans. The prize to the winner of this heavyweight matchup, the rally victory. The day started well for the Welsh Dragon. He would take stage win after stage win and shave more and more time of the Estonians lead. If he could win here, Evans could get back on the heels of his teammate, Rovanpera. Sadly it was not to be. Tanak pulled another power stage defense and not only won the battle over Evans. He also took the rally win. Not only that, he would now pass Evans for second place in the overall championship standings.

Neuville and Breen restarted and had a fairly action packed day. both drivers along with Rovanpera set very quick and competitive times all through the day. despite this both Breen and Neuville would finish in the top 30 and Rovanpera would score a 62nd place finish. Thankfully, the squabble between the leaders meant the fins lead remains intact and still considerable.

Esapekka Lappi had a terrific Sunday finishing the rally third with Katsuta and Solberg rounding out the top 5. Disaster would strike the former fourth placed Fourmaux. He would crash out on the 19th and second-to-last stage of the event. Greensmith would score a Sixth place finish in Rally1 class. Again, struggling to claim honors in the overall standings. It had, again, proven to be another roller-coaster weekend for the Cumbria based M-Sport team.

In the WRC2, Lefebvre took a commanding win ahead of Mikkelsen with Rossel rounding out the podium. Victory seemed assured but, controversy struck again. Mikkelsen and Toksport alleged that Lefebvre had got such a margin of victory by taking excessive cuts on some stages. Lefebvre was given a 15 second penalty. However, this time round, he would still have a 18 second margin of victory over the rest of the chasing pack.

Chris Ingram would pull a masterful drive on Sunday and would steal fourth place from Munster. Not only that, the former European champion would claim victory in the WRC2 Junior division ahead of Munster. Verschueren would finish sixth and Bedonet would claim a fantastic seventh. Kremer and Loix would round out the top 9 and finish first and second in the WRC2 Masters. Kremer coming out on top on this occasion. Finally in 10th, was the Citroen of Vanneste. Also finishing the event included Irish Tarmac Legend, Eamonn Boland. He would finish in 15th in WRC2. Finishing in 11th was the Toksport Skoda of Marco Bulacia. Finally, BRC star Neil Simpson, would make it to the end of the event and score a 13th place result.

In the championship standings. Mikkelsen’s second place sees him jump up to the top of the leaderboard. having been in third at the start of the weekend. Rossel is now in second with Kajetanowicz being demoted to third. After being past by both Mikkelsen and Rossel.

In WRC3, Jan Cerny would claim victory by a margin of 10 minutes. Laszlo would come second and Brazzoli third. In the class championship standings. Cerny would now move to second in the points. Just one point behind Pajari. Meaning its now a three way fight for the title. As both Cerny and Lauri Joona are now tied for second with 86 points. Pajari still has the advantage on 87. Despite not, officially, scoring points on this event.

So, there it is ladies and gentlemen. Another epic chapter in the ongoing 2022 WRC story. Can Tanak take the fight to Rovanpera and steel the fins first ever title? Can the Toyotas fight back next time out? Can Ford get their Monte Carlo grove back for the rest of the season? And will the titles in WRC2 and WRC3 be claimed by a Scandinavian or a European star of the Future? Find out next time. When the WRC tackles its toughest European test yet. The Acropolis Rally in Greece. The ultimate car breaking event on the WRC Calendar. A rally that plays out in the shadow of the legendary temples and landmarks that make the Acropolis a truly mythical venue.   


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