Elfyn Evans has scored his first victory with the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team following a dominant performance at Rally Sweden in just his second event behind the wheel of the Toyota Yaris WRC. Joining him on the podium was 19-year-old rookie sensation Kalle Rovanperä, who came out on top in a thrilling battle with his world champion team-mate Sébastien Ogier for third place with a stunning run through the rally-ending Power Stage. Together, the trio continued the team’s outstanding start to the season with its all-new driver line-up: Toyota has taken the lead of the manufacturers’ championship, while Evans jointly leads the drivers’ championship for the first time in his career.
Evans led the event from start to finish to record his second career FIA World Rally Championship victory, after winning on home soil on Wales Rally GB in 2017. It is a first ever WRC win for co-driver Scott Martin after the pair joined forces last season, and together they are the first British competitors to ever win Rally Sweden, a founding round of the WRC in 1973.
The third Rally Sweden triumph in four years for the Toyota Yaris WRC came in very different conditions to the previous two. Unseasonal weather in the build up to the event – which is usually run entirely on ice and snow – meant that organisers developed a reduced itinerary to ensure the rally could go ahead. Freezing temperatures helped keep the stages in a good condition on Friday and Saturday, before rain on Sunday created a demanding final stage.
Evans had built up a cushion of 17.2 seconds into the final day having won five of the previous eight stages and this allowed him to take a relatively cautious approach through the tricky deciding test and still secure the win by 12.7s.
Already impressive on his debut at rallying’s top level on Rallye Monte-Carlo, Rovanperä reached another level on Rally Sweden, climbing as high as second overall at one point on Friday. He and Ogier traded third place several times on Saturday, and it was Ogier who came into the final day with an advantage of half a second.
In the tricky conditions of the 21.19-kilometre Likenäs stage, Rovanperä was 3.7 seconds faster than anybody else, taking his first ever WRC stage win and the maximum five bonus points on offer in the Power Stage. He is the youngest ever podium finisher on a WRC round, more than two years younger than the previous record holder. Ogier still achieved the third fastest time as well as fourth overall, collecting a strong points haul towards the championship, where he is in third place, five points behind Evans.
Akio Toyoda (Team Chairman)
“In Sweden in unusual conditions, with not much snow, Evans and Martin brought the first victory of the season to our new-look team. Elfyn and Scott, congratulations! At the beginning of his new chapter with us, he came to our factory in Estonia and worked hard until late at night to understand how to use and maintain the Yaris WRC. He also built up the team spirit by going bowling with the mechanics, for example. I am really happy that such a new team member is already achieving great results together with the team. And Kalle and Jonne climbed on the third step of the podium after a big fight, with only a three-second gap, against Seb and Julien. I also appreciate these four guys for scoring great points and making the fans excited. Katsuta finished the rally and recorded good times on some stages he decided to attack. He made faster times at one stage than Tänak, with whom he has good friendship. This will give him some confidence. Taka, keep going! There is one thing I feel ‘regret’ about. I promised Tänak and Järveoja I will soak them with champagne from above. I couldn’t be in Sweden for this chance… But frankly speaking, it’s too cold to do a champagne fight in Sweden! I hope we will have the chance in warmer rounds. My team-mates of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, let’s keep winning! And Ott and Martin, let’s keep fighting! I feel our drivers are enjoying to drive the Yaris WRC more and more round-by-round. I believe they will show us more exciting drives in the next round and beyond. Thank you in advance to our fans for supporting us this season.
At Rally Sweden, Latvala competed with Hänninen as co-driver and drove a Yaris WRC as a privateer. They were our original drivers when we came back to the WRC in 2017. I heard Jari-Matti say “I am happy to be part of TOYOTA and I’m glad to drive the Yaris again”. I felt very happy that they chose the Yaris WRC. I feel very sorry for the mechanical trouble on the Yaris WRC which Jari-Matti and Juho had. I had wanted them to drive and to enjoy as much as possible, but this time it didn’t go well. I heard they will come back for Rally Italia Sardegna. We will prepare the Yaris WRC perfectly for them to fight. Please enjoy then as much as possible!”
Tommi Mäkinen (Team Principal)
“It is an absolutely brilliant finish for us here. Elfyn has been so good this weekend, and he and Scott have made history today as the first British winners in Sweden. And it’s incredible what Kalle did in the final stage. It was his first time on that stage in these cars. Everybody else has been doing it many times before and he was just flying away from the rest. I think we have a ‘dream team’ at the moment. There is such a good feeling and the team spirit is the highest it’s ever been. I can only smile and be proud of them.”
Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17)
“I cannot be unhappy about this weekend. I don’t really enjoy being fourth but it’s still some good points for the championship and it puts us in a good position ahead of Mexico. Kalle deserves this podium. He did a really great job the whole weekend, and he went for it in the Power Stage and he did a brilliant time. It was very difficult conditions, and when you’re thinking about the championship, it was hard to really go for it. Elfyn was driving fantastic this weekend and it’s a nice win for him and for the team. It’s always better to have these strong guys in your team rather than in the opposition: I think Toyota has a very strong line-up for this season. For us now we focus on the next one, where we will try to fight for the win.”
Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“I feel really good to have my first win with TOYOTA GAZOO Racing in our second event together. I have to give a lot of credit to the team for not only giving me a great car but also giving me the support and help in testing for me to get the car to where I wanted it. The car is giving me great confidence, and in changeable conditions like we’ve had here, that’s really worth a lot. It has been very enjoyable to drive so far and hopefully we can carry this feeling onto gravel in the events to come. A big thanks to Scott too: he’s been very good since he’s been alongside me and I’m very happy to finally be with him for his first win too.”
Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“I feel really good to be on the podium. It was a really demanding rally because it was shorter than usual and all the time you had to be flat-out. We were losing some time because of my mistakes but it was nice to get back on the podium today and also to have five points from the Power Stage. It was a really good run, I gave it everything I have. It didn’t feel so good in the beginning because I was maybe a bit more careful and saving the tyres, but it paid off in the end as we were doing really fast split times and the final time was really good.”
PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION, RALLY SWEDEN
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1h11m43.1s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +12.7s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota Yaris WRC) +20.2s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota Yaris WRC) +23.6s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Ford Fiesta WRC) +32.4s
6 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +33.8s
7 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m00.9s
8 Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m24.5s
9 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m59.6s
10 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (Hyundai i20 R5) +4m03.0s
(Results as of 15:30 on Sunday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)
Rally Mexico (March 12-15) features rough gravel roads and temperatures in the region of 30°C. High altitude is also a major factor, with a route that peaks at 2,737m above sea level, starving engines of air and cutting power by as much as 20 per cent.
Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen
Car 17 (Sébastien Ogier, Julien Ingrassia)
Car 69 (Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen)