Evans takes the top spot at a snow-covered WRC Rally Sweden
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Welshman Elfyn Evans has taken only two rallies to deliver a victory for the Toyota Gazoo World Rally Team.
Evans won a weather-shortened WRC Rally Sweden at the weekend, leading from start-to-finish in his Toyota Yaris WRC and powering to a share of the championship lead in the process. It was Evans’ second WRC victory and the Welsh driver delivered it in convincing style.
With un-seasonal warm weather limiting the amount of roads suitable for the studded winter tyres, the rally itinerary was reduced to only 10 stages and then lost another on the final day. However full points were awarded.
With the rally reduced to a sprint distance, Evans grabbed the lead on Friday’s opening stage and completed the first day loop of four stages with an 8.5secs advantage over Estonia’s world champion Ott Tanak (Hyundai) while Finnish teenager Kalle Rovanpera moved into third place ahead of his Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier (France).
Championship leader Thierry Neuville (Belgium) struggled running first in the road in his Hyundai on Friday and completed the opening loop in sixth place.
Saturday repeated the same four stages and Evans was fastest on three of them to double his lead over Tanak to 17.2secs. The only significant change on the leaderboard saw Ogier move ahead of Rovanpera by a mere 0.5secs to hold third place.
Two runs through the 21km Likenas stage had been planned for Sunday but to preserve the road conditions it was only run once as the bonus points Power Stage. Evans took a cautious approach as rain fell on the patchy ice and he was only sixth fastest while Rovanpera stormed to the fastest time ahead of Neuville.
Rovanpera’s Power Stage push moved him ahead of Ogier to secure his first WRC podium in only his second start in a top echelon WRC car.
Evans won by 12.7secs from Tanak while Rovanpera was 20.2secs behind the rally winner and 3.4secs ahead of fourth placed Ogier. Ford Fiesta driver Esapekka Lappi (Finland) was fifth ahead of Hyundai drivers Neuville and Crag Breen (Ireland).
The championship lead is now shared by the two rally winners to-date this season with Evans and Neuville tied on 42 points while Ogier has 37 and Rovanpera has started impressively 30.
Toyota’s 1-3 score bettered the 2-5 tally that Hyundai Motorsport posted in Sweden and brings a change on the Manufacturers’ leaderboard with Toyota now in front on 73 points from Hyundai Motorsport on 63. M-Sport Ford has 40 points.
The championship now moves to the first gravel event of the season with Rally Guanajuato Mexico based in Leon running from March 12-15. In early September New Zealand will return to the WRC for the first time since 2012 with an Auckland-based event which is the ninth of 13 rounds.