Colin McRae and Richard Burns? They didn’t manage it. Kris Meeke was the first, in 2016. Now Elfyn Evans has joined him as the only other British driver in 70 years to have won Rally Finland, following a magnificent performance that has reignited his World Rally Championship bid ahead of the penultimate round this weekend in Spain.
Rally Finland, formerly the 1000 Lakes, is one of rallying’s ‘majors’ beside the Monte Carlo Rally, the Safari and Rally GB. In the old days, only Finns and the odd Swede tended to win it, until Carlos Sainz Sr broke the hegemony in 1990. Since then, the French have tasted success thanks to Didier Auriol and the two Sébastiens, Loeb and Ogier, while neighbouring Estonians Markko Märtin and more recently Ott Tänak – winner in 2018 and 2019 – have conquered the fast gravel roads too.
Now Evans has followed in Meeke’s wheel tracks, in a performance that ranks as high as anything achieved by a British sportsperson in any field of play this year – but because the general media ignores rallying most of the time, the Welshman won’t receive the wider recognition he thoroughly deserves.
Evans is modest to a fault and only when pushed did he admit his drive “probably ranks the highest” in his career, although the first of his five WRC victories is likely to always be the most special, coming as it did on home soil in Wales on Rally GB in 2017. But winning in Finland? It’s the one all rally drivers crave, on the fastest and most challenging gravel stages in the world. This year had added jeopardy too.
For the first time, Finland welcomed the WRC not in its traditional summer slot but on a cold, dry autumn weekend, to allow fans back now pandemic restrictions have been lifted. The views were stunning as the forests dazzled in myriad shades of green and gold, the later date also opening up the prospect of stages running into darkness for the first time. The event was cancelled last year because of Covid, so anticipation was already high. Night stages and the use of some unfamiliar roads from the distant past shot excitement into the stratosphere.