After the summer holidays, the World Rally Championship resumes tomorrow with the ninth race of the Calendar: the Rally Finland 2019 (1st-4th August).
This is one of the championship’s classics and most spectacular events and this year promises to be closer and more exciting than ever.
The three drivers leading the standings, Ott Tänak (Toyota), Sebastien Ogier (Citröen) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai), arrive in Finland with just ten points between them.
Each team is thus preparing to give it all at the Scandinavian country in an attempt to assert their dominance over the other two.
Toyota Gazoo Racing and its Estonian driver are the number one favourites out of the three. The Japanese team has won the past two editions of the rally (2017 Esapekka Lappi and 2018 Ott Tänak).
Underestimating the strength of Hyundai and Citröen and their eagerness to take the lead in Finland, however, could be their worst mistake.
Toyota and Tänak: The greatest rivals
After their recent victory in Rally Estonia, Toyota and Tänak arrive in Finland in great spirits. Despite the Estonian Rally not pointing towards the WRC score, they did beat all of their rivals, among them all of those competing in the WRC this season, with great ease.
As if that wasn’t enough, Tänak has a luxury team behind him: Kris Meeke, who climbed up to the top of the podium in Finland in 2016 and Jari-Matti Latvala who took 2010, 2014 and 2015 editions.
The leader of the championship wants to make up for what happened in Sardinia where a flat tire during the Power Stage robbed him of the victory. His priority this weekend, as well as that of Toyota, is to climb back up to the top step of the podium just as he did in Chile and Portugal.
To all effects, it could be said that this is the Japanese team’s home race as Finland is the country from which they operate and with the legendary Tommi Mäkinen managing the sporting infrastructure of Toyota.
The Yaris WRC has been conceived and developed to shine on the Finnish terrain. The most salient traits of the Rally Finland, now in its 69th edition, are its fast sections, running through thick forests and lakes as well as its big jumps. The Yaris WRC is perfectly suited for those characteristics.
Hyundai to avoid falling behind
After Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb declined to participate in the Rally Finland 2019, Hyundai decided to sign Craig Breen for the occasion.
The addition of the Irish driver to the South Korean line up to accompany Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville, triggered another movement within the driver’s market.
Their old driver, Hayden Paddon, sacked at the end of 2018 in favour of Sebastien Loeb, was hired by M-Sport. An unfortunate accident during thee 1.000 Lagos test sessions, however, left him without his precious opportunity to return to the WRC.
Neuville, leader of the Alzenau team, has to win if he wants to prove he is still a serious candidate for the title. Despite being only 10 points away from the head in the standings, his performance has fallen sharply in the last few races. He hasn’t won since Argentina and, in Sardinia, he could only manage a sixth place.
Citröen and Ogier, a stone’s throw from the top
The French squad arrives at Rally Finland 2019 with every intention to dethrone Tänak from the lead, a mere four points ahead of him. Ogier would also be eager to turn his bad fortune around after an ill-placed stone left him out of the game in Sardinia just before the summer holiday.
His Citröen C3 WRC has undergone a few improvements for the occasion. Next to the French six-time champion will race local driver Esapekka Lappi. The local hero has taken part in his country’s rally on nine occasions and conquered the victory in 2017.
After lossing to their leader, Elfyn Evans, who damaged his back in Estonia, has joined another problem for Cumbria team. Last Monday, his driver for 2019 Finland Rally, Hayden Paddon, suffered a heavy accident in the tests before the Scandinavian race.
As a result, his Ford Fiesta WRC was inoperative and the New Zealander without his expected return to the World Cup. Its seat will be occupied by Gus Greensmith, promoted from the WRC2 Pro, who will pair up with the local hero Teemu Suninen.
Images of ‘Rally Finland 2019 Preview’: WRC.Com