ASPARAN (TURKEY): Welshman Elfyn Evans held his nerve, rode his luck to an extent and measured his pace to perfection to seal a priceless victory in Rally Turkey, after one of the most dramatic final mornings in the history of the FIA World Rally Championship.
Partnered by Scott Martin, the Toyota Yaris driver reached the finish 35.2 seconds in front of the Belgian duo of Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul to regain the lead in the FIA World Rally Championship. French legend Sébastien Loeb and co-driver Daniel Elena gave Hyundai vital Manufacturers’ points with the final place on the podium behind their team-mates.
The first of two passes through the Çetibeli stage delivered drama from the start. The brutal nature of the track surface forced the retirements of both Pierre-Louis Loubet and Teemu Suninen, while time-consuming punctures threw the leader board into chaos, with Evans and Gus Greensmith the only drivers in the top eight at that point to escape tyre damage and punctures.
It was that element of good fortune that paved the way for Evans to secure a third career WRC victory to accompany his home success in 2017 and a stunning win in Sweden in February.
A maiden triumph in Turkey has also thrown the title race wide open and Evans and Sébastien Ogier now head to Sardinia separated by 18 points in the title race following the six-time World Champion’s cruel engine overheating issues on the penultimate stage. Defending World Champion Ott Tänak and young Kalle Rovanperä are nine points further behind, with Neuville 32 adrift.
“It has been a fantastic weekend,” said Evans. “We have been there or thereabouts all weekend. We tried to drive well and stay in the middle of the road. That did reward us. I know a bit of luck needs to go your way. I don’t like to inherit positions but that is the nature of Rally Turkey, It’s not the sweetest victory, knowing you have been conservative, but that is the name of the game. We have to take all the points we can.”
The topsy-turvy morning played havoc with the entire leader board and young Rovanperä eventually reached the finish in fourth place. Gus Greensmith and Esapekka Lappi slotted into fifth and sixth in the two surviving M-Sport Ford Fiestas – the former earning a career-best result.
Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz climbed to the dizzy heights of seventh overall on his way to an impressive victory in the WRC3 category. “We did it again,” said a delighted Pole. “This is one of the most difficult rallies of my career in the World Championship.”
Closest WRC3 rival Marco Bulacia was 10th and moved to the top of the leader board in the championship. The two WRC2 front-runners, Pontus Tidemand and Adrien Fourmaux, were classified in eighth and ninth, the former maintaining his hopes of beating Mads Østberg to the title. Turkey’s Yaĝiz Avci and Burak Çukorova were third and fifth in WRC3 with Chile’s Alberto Heller sandwiched between them in fourth.
Tänak lost his chance of taking victory on Friday but earned four Power Stage points on the final stage.
Sunday – as it happened
The first of two runs through the longest stage of the rally, Çetibeli (38.15km), was first up and was arguably the most challenging of the entire event, despite starting in cooler early morning temperatures. A low sun, no wind and hanging dust added to the difficulty for drivers following behind road sweepers Tänak and Loubet.
Intercom issues hampered the 21st-placed Estonian early in the stage but the current World Champion set the target time of 29min 10.5sec. But his issue was just the tip of the iceberg as a series of dramatic developments soon unfolded that will go down in WRC folklore.
Loubet stopped 24.6km into the special with technical issues and was forced to throw in the towel, Suninen ground to a halt with damaged rear-left suspension and both Rovanperä and Lappi stopped for a short time to change punctures.
Neuville headed into the final morning with a 33.2-second advantage over a tying Loeb and Ogier. Hanging dust was causing problems for all the crews and the drama continued unabated.
Ogier was forced to stop and change a flat tyre 18.3km into the special, the 90-second delay dropping him 46.9 seconds behind team-mate Evans in the virtual overall rankings and throwing the title race wide open. The Welshman had the added satisfaction of setting his first fastest time of the weekend.
Neuville erred on the side of caution to avoid a puncture but the Belgian also stopped to change a flat after 25.2km. He finished the stage in sixth and slipped to third overall, his cause helped when team-mate Loeb crawled to the finish on a destroyed front tyre and fell to fourth. Tidemand and Kajetanowicz survived the ordeal and continued to lead their respective WRC2 and WRC3 categories.
Evans reached the first run through the Marmaris stage with a 46.9-second advantage over Ogier and a 47.7-second cushion over Neuville, with Loeb 4.7 seconds further adrift.
A flying Neuville was fastest on the practice run through the Power Stage, but Evans headed to Asparan for a short service holding an outright lead of 42.2 seconds after stalling at a hairpin in the stage. A mere 9.2 seconds separated Neuville, Ogier and Loeb in second, third and fourth. Tidemand and Kajetanowicz remained in control in WRC2 and WRC3.
Ogier summed up his feeling before the re-run of the formidable Çetibeli stage. “Pure lottery,” said the Frenchman. “If you have the luck with you, anything can happen.” Neuville’s strategy was to drive flat out and rely on Evans having a problem. The scene was set for a scintillating finale to the rally.
Tänak opted to start the stage behind rival Ogier, meaning Greensmith was forced to open the road, although the Estonian then pulled in to the side of the track a short distance into the special. He had made the decision to cruise through and preserve his tyres for the Power Stage
But the drama was not finished and Ogier noticeably lost power in his Toyota Yaris shortly after the stage start. An engine alarm signalled serious engine overheating issues and the Frenchman was forced to pull over and withdraw from the rally soon afterwards.
Hyundai had changed Loeb’s gearbox at Asparan and both he and Neuville pushed hard to keep the pressure on Evans. The Welshman held his nerve and stayed clear of trouble to card a target time of 27min 51.3sec and duly conserved a sizeable lead of 36.9 seconds to take to the Power Stage. Neuville won the special to consolidate second place and Loeb was third.
With Ogier out of the equation for the Power Stage, it opened the door for Tänak, Neuville and Roverperä to challenge Evans for the extra points. The Estonian laid down the gauntlet with a stunning run of 4min 20.82sec. Lappi nursed his Fiesta to the finish with a broken damper and Rovanperä ran short with a 4min 22.11sec.
That left the top three to fight for the Power Stage points. Loeb didn’t want to take points off his team-mates and he recorded a time of 4min 26.10sec to secure his podium finish. Neuville attacked and a time of 4min 20.41sec gave him the Power Stage win and five bonus points after Evans confirmed his victory and set the fourth fastest time to earn two additional points.
Rally Turkey ran with the valuable backing of the Republic of Turkey Ministry of Youth and Sports, Turkey Tourism Promotion and Development Agency and Spor Toto. Crucial sponsorship for the event came from AVIS, Grand Yazıcı Club Turban, Turk Yacht, Pilotcar, Ahu Hastanesi, Mr. No Dardanel, Auto Club and Marmaris Municipality. Communications support came from Turk Telekom and the event was broadcast live on TRTSPOR2.
2020 Rally Turkey – positions after SS12 (unofficial @ 14.35hrs):
1. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC 2hr 43min 02.7sec
2. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hr 43min 37.9sec
3. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (FRA) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hr 44min 02.1sec
4. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 2hr 45min 38.6sec
5. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Elliott Edmondson (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hr 47min 11.0sec
6. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hr 48min 38.9sec
7. Kajetan Kajetanowicz (POL)/Maciej Szczepaniak (POL) Škoda Fabia (WRC3) 2hr 55min 38.2sec
8. Pontus Tidemand (SWE)/Patrik Barth (SWE) Škoda Fabia Evo (WRC2) 2hr 56min 02.4sec
9. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Renaud Jamoul (BEL) Ford Fiesta MkII (WRC2) 2hr 57min 45.3sec
10. Marco Bulacia (BOL)/Marcelo Der Ohannesian (ARG) Citroën C3 (WRC3) 2hr 57min 49.1sec
SS1 Thierry Neuville
SS2 Sébastien Loeb
SS3-5 Sébastien Ogier
SS6-8 Thierry Neuville
SS9-12 Elfyn Evans
SS1 Thierry Neuville
SS2 Sébastien Loeb
SS3 Sébastien Ogier
SS4 Sébastien Ogier
SS5 Thierry Neuville
SS6 Thierry Neuville
SS7 Thierry Neuville
SS8 Sébastien Loeb
SS9 Elfyn Evans
SS10 Thierry Neuville
SS11 Thierry Neuville
SS12 Thierry Neuville
2020 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers – positions after round 5 (unofficial):
1. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 97pts
2. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 79pts
3. Ott Tänak (EST) 70pts
3. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 70pts
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 65pts, etc