After the cancellation of the Swedish Rally due to the global pandemic, the World Rally Championship moved further north than ever before, to the Arctic Circle.
Ten stages, over 251.08 km of ice and snow covered roads traversed villages and forests saw the cars, on Pirelli tungsten-tipped studded tyres, attaining speeds of 200 km/h and leaning on the snow drifts in corners. Temperatures around – 140 C were expected, but the weather warmed to 00 C and created difficulties for the first day front runners.
Tanak set the pace winning both stages on day one, opening a 16.2 second lead over teammate Craig Breen, who held off the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris of Kalle Rovanpera in third place ahead of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville in fourth. Toyota’s Elfyn Evans claimed fifth spot, albeit 32 seconds behind Tanak with Ogier in ninth, 49.8 seconds behind the leader.
All eyes were on Oliver Solberg in his first rally behind the wheel of a full WRC specification Hyundai i20 and the young Norwegian did not disappoint, finishing day one in eighth position.
Reigning champions Sébastien Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia were struggling. Having won in Monte Carlo they were first away and had the unenviable task of sweeping the roads. With the higher temperatures the snow was soft and powdery, offering no grip and the drifts not capable of holding the car on track.
Day two saw Tanak extend his lead, winning three of the six stages and keeping Rovanpera at bay. The Finn was under pressure from a determined Neuville who earlier had struggled to hear co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe’s pace notes above his car’s engine noise. However he cut the Toyota drivers advantage down to just 1.8 seconds at the end of the day.
It was another bad day for Ogier when he blasted his Toyota Yaris into a snow bank 200 metres from the end of the closing stage and dropped off the leader board after taking 20 minutes to dig it out.
Breen was battling with tyres as the afternoons conditions worsened and he dropped 30 seconds behind Neuville. Despite having won a stage in the morning Evans was another man experiencing tyre issues and was now 10.1 seconds behind Breen. Tanak had the rally under control and was reported as saying at the end of day 2.
“This afternoon was all about getting through and we didn’t make any mistakes. “This morning we were still pushing a bit but this afternoon it was important just to come through. The last stage was quite stressful, but for us there was no need to push
The final day and it was a second stage win for Evans. The final stage, the Wolf Power stage, went to Rovanpera securing second overall on the rally. It moved him to the top of the driver’s championship table, the youngest ever driver to attain this. Tanak took a comfortable victory and demonstrated to his rivals that he is a force to be reckoned with this season.
Neuville took third and moved himself into second on the driver’s title race and reduced the deficit in the manufacturer’s championship just 11 points. The WRC moves to the asphalt Croatia Rally for round three, which is based in Zagreb on April 22-25.
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20 2hr 03 min 49.6 sec
2. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris +17.5 sec
3. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20 +19.8 sec
4. C Breen / P Nagle Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20 +52.6 sec
5. E Evans / S Martin Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris +1 min 01.5 sec
6. T Katsuta / D Barritt Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Yaris +1 min 37.8 sec
7. O Solberg / S Marshall Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT i20 + 1 min 39.0 sec
8. T Suninen / M Markkula M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta + 2 min 09.0 sec
9. G Greensmith /E Edmondson M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta +3 min 39.04 sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 2 of 12)
1. K Rovanperä 39 pts
2. T Neuville 35
3. S Ogier 31
4. E Evans 31
5. O Tänak 27