Tanak takes back-to-back WRC wins with Ypres Rally Belgium success

Tanak takes back-to-back WRC wins with Ypres Rally Belgium success

Ott Tanak stormed to Ypres Rally Belgium victory on Sunday afternoon to seal back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship wins.

The Estonian driver inherited the top spot late on Saturday afternoon when Hyundai i20 N Rally1 teammate and long-time leader Thierry Neuville understeered off the road and into a ditch, shattering the Belgium’s hopes of a repeat home win.

Tanak, who won on the super-fast gravel of Rally Finland earlier this month, carried an 8.2s buffer over Toyota’s Elfyn Evans into Sunday’s final leg, which comprised four short, sharp stages in the Flanders region.

Evans, not one to give up without a fight, flew to fastest times on the two opening stages in his GR Yaris Rally1, but was still unable to make any major gains on his rival.

When the morning’s two tests were repeated in the afternoon, completing the three-day rally’s 20 special stages and 174.97 competitive miles over tricky, narrow and dusty asphalt roads, it was a similar story. Despite outpacing his rival by 2.2s in the finale, Welshman Evans was unable to overhaul Tanak, who took the win by 5.0s.

Tanak’s success means he now trails championship leader Kalle Rovanpera — who rolled his Yaris out of contention on Friday morning — by 72 points in the WRC drivers’ championship.

Rovanpera’s Toyota Gazoo Racing mechanics rebuilt the car overnight and the 21-year-old Finn was able to rejoin the event for the final two legs, albeit out of contention for an overall result. He did salvage five bonus points by winning the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage, and with only four rallies and a maximum of 120 points up for grabs, he remains on track to become the youngest WRC champion in history.

The WRC manufacturers’ championship situation remains unchanged, with Tanak’s Hyundai Motorsport squad still 88 points adrift of leaders Toyota Gazoo Racing.

“To win here is a big surprise for us — more or less the same as it was in Finland,” said Tanak. “We didn’t expect it from anywhere basically, but somehow we were able to pull it together during the rally.

“It’s great to see that some results are coming for us now, but there is so much we can improve and we could still be a lot stronger, so there is still some work to do.”

For Evans, it was a case of what could have been. He gave away valuable seconds on Friday when a slow puncture forced him to run a spare wet-weather tire in dry conditions. He also landed a 10s time penalty for arriving late to Friday’s final stage. Without that, the outcome could have been different…

Evans pushed the winner over the final stages, but his first-day setbacks proved too much to overcome. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT photo

Esapekka Lappi made it two GR Yaris machines on the podium, the Finn securing a lonely third at the end of a trouble-free weekend where a poor tire choice on Friday was the only real bump in the road.

Lappi trailed Evans home by 1m36.6s, but held a massive 1m46.9s advantage over fourth-placed Hyundai youngster Oliver Solberg, who earned a career-best result to banish all memories of his early crash and retirement in Finland last time out.

Solberg had started Sunday locked into a tight scrap with M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux. However, the Puma Rally1 driver crashed out in the penultimate stage, ending any chance of grabbing what would have been his career-best WRC finish, too.

Young Oliver Solberg was also part of Hyundai’s success story in Belgium, taking a career-best fourth. McKlein / Motorsport Images

Fourmaux’s exit promoted Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta to fifth overall, a distant 2m37.6s behind Solberg. Although transmission and hybrid unit faults hampered the Japanese driver’s Belgian weekend, he’s now finished inside the top six at every WRC round since Sweden in February.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Stephane Lefebrvre completed a near start-to-finish class victory — his first of the season — and took sixth place on the overall leaderboard.

The Frenchman capitalized on local knowledge gained from competing in Belgium’s national championship to take the honors by 18.1s in his Citroen C3.

Lefebvre snatched the lead on Friday’s second stage and then held the position for the rally’s entirety. He briefly came under threat from reigning WRC2 champ and current points leader Andreas Mikkelsen on Saturday’s opening stage, but quickly upped the tempo to carry a 25.7s advantage into Sunday’s final leg, where a measured drive through the last four stages secured his win.

Stephane Lefebvre stood above the rest pretty much all the way in WRC2. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

Mikkelsen remained second in class in his Skoda Fabia Evo and still leads the championship before dropped scores are taken into account. But with two retirements already this season, victory here would have been a major help in the Norwegian’s title defense.

Lefebvre’s compatriot Yohan Rossel brought his Citroen home 51.0s further back to claim more solid points for third. He headed Britain’s Chris Ingram by 26.0s, with the Fabia driver also taking top points in WRC2 Junior thanks to a gutsy Sunday drive.

The WRC is back on gravel next month for the legendary Acropolis Rally Greece, Sept. 8-11. Adding intrigue, rallying legend Sebastien Loeb will be making his fourth start of the year for M-Sport Ford. The French nine-time WRC champ won the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally in a Puma Rally1, and after M-Sport Ford’s tribulations in Belgium — perhaps he’ll be able to provide a confidence-boosting result on the rough, tough Greek stages?

WRC Ypres Rally Belgium, final positions after Day Three, SS20
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 2h25m38.9s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +5.0s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m41.6s
4 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +3m28.5s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +6m06.1s
6 Stephane Lefebvre/Xavier Portier (Citroen C3 – WRC2 winner) +9m45.7s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +10m03.8s
8 Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +10m54.8s
9 Chris Ingram/Craig Drew (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +11m20.8s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +11m26.8s

WRC Drivers’ Championship after 9 rounds
1
Kalle Rovanpera 203 points
2 Tanak 131
3 Evans 116
4 Thierry Neuville 106
5 Katsuta 92

WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 9 rounds
1
Toyota Gazoo Racing 381 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 293
3 M-Sport Ford 188
4 TGR Next Generation 100

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