After two rounds in varying wintry conditions, the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) moves to the gravel roads of Mexico next month, with the winner in Sweden last Sunday, 31-year-old Briton Elfyn Evans, adding a new exciting dimension to the most unpredictable WRC in decades.
Evans is the man of the moment following his gun-to-tape sweep in Sweden, a conquest the British fans continue to sample and wallow in since.
Evans, navigated by his compatriot Scott Smith, is the first Briton to win the 68 years-old winter Scandinavian classic, this year shortened following lack of traditional snowy conditions in Sweden and Norway.
Not since the heady days of the late Colin McRae and Richard Burns, winner of the 2001 WRC driver’s title, have Britons ever sampled the ratified air of the WRC Citadel club of champions in a foreign land like last weekend.
Evans was fastest in five of the nine competitive stages to out-gun defending champion Ott Tanak of Estonia in a Hyundai i20 by a mere 12.7 seconds after four days of high octane action under far from ideal climatic conditions which have singled out Sweden as the quintessential of demanding icy rallying conditions, traditionally a preserve of Scandinavian drivers.
Finnish youngster Kale Rovanpera completed Toyota Gazoo Racing podium domination. He was followed by six-time world champion Frenchman Sebastien Ogier in another Yaris.
Sweden was his second WRC triumph since his career-best laurels in 2017 WRC Wales Rally GB and, now barring the unexpected, he can only build on his 42-point lead in the championship.
He is level with Monte Carlo winner Belgian Thierry Neuville who was sixth in Sweden. But the Briton has a superior countback. They are followed by Ogier with 37 points and Rovanpera (30).
Evans moved from M-Sport Ford last year, ending the 2019 WRC in fifth, results attributed to his absence in three rounds due to injury.
Evans’ move to Toyota Racing Gazoo headed by two-time Safari champion Tommi Makinen is turning out to be the most formidable team in the world in the recent past.
Rovanpera’s third in Sweden underlies Makinen’s knack of identifying talent. Rovanpera is only 19 with only two outings in WRC factory team which places him fourth in the championship’s overall table.
He is a great prospect of re-discovering the rallying essence of the ‘Flying Finn” mantra after unprecedented total domination of Ogier and compatriot Sebastien Loeb (nine titles) from 2004.
Marcus Granholm was the last Finn, nay non-French driver, to win the WRC title in 2002 followed by Norwegian Petter Solberg (2003) before Loeb and Ogier annihilated the world since a stronghold only broken by Ott Tanak of Estonia last year. Rovanpera claimed five bonus championship points from his victory in the live Swedish TV Wolf Power Stage.
He was followed by Neuville with four points in a Hyundai i20, with Ogier taking three in third. Tänak clinched two points in fourth as another Finn, Esapekka Lappi secured one point in a Ford Fiesta in the fifth position.
The big question is can Rovanpera eclipse Jari-Matti Latvala who claimed his maiden victory in Sweden 2008 to become the youngest driver to win a world rally at 22 years and 313 days.