Elfyn Evans scores Rally Sweden win as rookie Kalle Rovanperä takes third
© Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
Elfyn Evans dominates a shortened Rally Sweden to make history as the first British driver to win the event, finishing ahead of Ott Tänak and rookie team-mate Kalle Rovanperä in a stunning third.
Toyota's Elfyn Evans overcame arduous conditions to claim the second World Rally Championship victory of his career and become the first British driver ever to win Rally Sweden. The Welshman beat Hyundai's reigning WRC champion Ott Tänak and rookie team-mate Kalle Rovanperä to the win and leaves Scandinavia leading the WRC standings.
Rally Sweden, the second event on the 2020 WRC calendar, was scheduled to consist of 18 stages. However, a lack of snow due to unseasonably warm weather played havoc with the stages and the itinerary, leaving organisers no choice but to run a significantly slimmed down schedule that featured just nine stages.
Thursday night's Karlstad superspecial was cancelled and instead became an extended shakedown, with the first timed stage taking place on Friday morning. Following plunging overnight temperatures, drivers and co-drivers were faced with a mix of ice, gravel and snow, but it was Evans who adapted the best and won the opening stage. He ended Stage 2 still in the lead, with 2019 champion Tänak 0.2s behind.
With just four stages being run on Friday, Evans didn't waste any time finding his rhythm and won two of the stages on both sides of the Sweden–Norway border to end the day 8.5s ahead of Tänak, who was looking to make up for lost points after his massive crash at the previous round in Monte Carlo.
Because crews were using studded tyres, having anticipated snow, the subsequent lack of the white stuff meant that the studs were being pulled from the rubber and compromising grip. Both Monte Carlo Rally winner Thierry Neuville and six-time champion Sébastien Ogier struggled to adapt to this and ended the first day sixth and fourth respectively.
The big news after the opening stages of Rally Sweden was the performance of 19-year-old rookie Kalle Rovanperä. The Toyota driver, in just his second WRC class event, negotiated the difficult conditions to end the first day in third, only six seconds behind Tänak and three ahead of his illustrious team-mate Ogier.
Saturday's action featured four stages and it was in the de-facto Stage 6 where Evans tightened his hold on the rally. After Stage 5, Evans found himself 11.7s ahead of Tänak and three stages later he ended the day with three stage wins and an extended lead of 17.2s over the Estonian following the second Torsby sprint stage.
In the battle for third, Ogier managed to find some pace on Stage 6 and overhauled team-mate Rovanperä to push the Finnish driver into fourth, only for the reigning WRC2 champ to fight back to reclaim third overall by under a second on Stage 7. Saturday's final stage saw Ogier hold onto third by less than 0.5s
Rally organisers announced on Saturday that Sunday's action would feature just one stage, with the cancellation of the classic Likenäs 1 stage, meaning that competitors just had the 21.19km Likenäs 2 Power Stage to contend with.
With a mixture of mud, ice and snow, the final Power Stage was far from straightforward for the crews. Sensationally, it was the teenaged Toyota driver Rovanperä who won the power stage and in the process beat his multiple WRC title-winning team-mate Ogier to third overall by over three seconds.
Evans completed the stage with no dramas and made history in Sweden as the first British winner, ahead of Tänak and first-time WRC podium visitor Rovanperä, who himself made history by becoming the youngest driver ever to claim a WRC podium finish at just 19-years-old.
WRC Rally Sweden results
- Elfyn Evans (GBR) 1h 11m 43s
- Ott Tänak (EST) +12.7s
- Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) +20.2s
- Sébastien Ogier (FRA) +23.6s
- Esapekka Lappi (FIN) +32.4s
The Welsh dragon roars in Sweden
Rally Sweden 2020 may have suffered from unseasonably warm weather and a drastically reduced schedule, but the record books will only record one thing: the winner, Elfyn Evans.
The second race of the 2020 World Rally Championship, historically renowned for its snow-covered roads and classic stages such as Vargåsen Stage, with Colin's Crest, and Winter Madness at Färjestadstravet, was scheduled to consist of 18 stages. In the end, though, just nine stages were run on a mixture of mud, gravel, ice and snow.
There was still a rally to win and in just his second event driving a Toyota Yaris, Welshman Evans found grip and speed where the likes of team-mate Sébastien Ogier and Hyundai's Monte Carlo Rally winner Thierry Neuville proceeded with caution. As a result, by the end of the shortened first day, Evans was 8.5s ahead of reigning champion Ott Tänak. With the event seeing further stages cancelled, Evans was sitting pretty.
There was still plenty to do for Evans and the 2017 Wales Rally GB winner never let up, winning three of the four stages on Saturday and headed into Sunday's sole stage 17.2s in the lead. A few kilometres later, Evans slithered through the Likenäs 2 Power Stage to beat Tänak by 12.7secs and make history to become the first British driver to win Rally Sweden. Evans's co-driver Scott Martin also claimed his first WRC win.
The win in Sweden, coupled with his third place finish at the opening round in Monte Carlo, gives Evans the lead in the WRC drivers' standings for the first time in his career.
Rovanperä stuns Ogier in a thrilling battle for third
The 2020 World Rally Championship campaign may only be two events old, but there are already some tasty looking plot lines developing, not least the battle between six-time WRC title winner Sébastien Ogier and his 19-year-old Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
As Elfyn Evans dominated Rally Sweden in his Toyota Yaris, his team-mates slugged it out all the way on the treacherous and challenging roads that straddled the Sweden–Norway border. In the end, it was new boy Rovanperä who came out on top.
2019 WRC-2 Pro Champion Rovanperä got to grips with the changing conditions more rapidly than Ogier and ended the first four stages as the second best Toyota behind Evans, over three seconds clear of Ogier. On Saturday, the gloves were off and at the end of Stage 5, just one tenth of a second separated the pair. By the day's penultimate stage, Rovanperä held third over Ogier by over a second.
Saturday's concluding stage saw Ogier dig deep to take third overnight by 0.5s, but on Sunday's Power Stage, Rovanperä showed his raw talent. The Finnish driver attacked as others consolidated their positions, winning his first ever WRC stage by 3.7s from Thierry Neuville and claiming his first WRC podium ahead of a six-time champion. Can Ogier fight back in Mexico?
Neuville survives Sweden in the title hunt
Behind the history-making Elfyn Evans, Ott Tänak taking his best result for Hyundai and the battle for third between Sébastien Ogier and Kalle Rovanperä, Monte Carlo Rally-winner Thierry Neuville completed a rather anonymous Rally Sweden.
The Hyundai driver struggled to get to grips with opening the road on Friday and admitted that without the customary snow covering the Swedish stages, it was difficult to make his way up the leader board.
Despite this, the Belgian stayed out of trouble to come home sixth overall, just over a second shy of M-Sport's Esapekka Lappi, and crucially finished second on the Power Stage to claim four points and equal Evans's 42 points at the summit of the Drivers' standings.
2020 WRC Drivers' Standings (After Rd2 of 13)
- Elfyn Evans 42 points
- Thierry Neuville 42
- Sébastien Ogier 37
- Kalle Rovanperä 30
- Esapekka Lappi 24