Elfyn Evans and his co-driver Phil Pugh took their second successive FIA WRC Academy victory when they won the category on Rally Finland. The result means the pair has moved into the lead of the Academy series after three events.
Victory on the previous round – the Acropolis Rally in Greece – meant that the Welsh duo started Rally Finland in second place in the Academy. As part of their preparations for the event, Elfyn and Phil tackled a round of the Finnish Championship in the weeks leading up to Rally Finland, finishing second in class. More importantly, the experience of competing on fast, flowing Finnish gravel roads meant the pair were able to finalise settings and fine-tune their pacenote style in readiness for the quickest gravel event in the World Rally Championship calendar.
Setting the fastest time on one of the opening loop of three stages, Elfyn and Phil were clearly determined to repeat their Acropolis result on an event traditionally dominated by Nordic crews. Despite the challenges posed by such a specialist event, the pair then went quickest on six of the nine stages on Day 2 to start the final day with a lead of a minute and ten seconds.
The final day’s five stages then saw the pair adopt a slightly more cautious approach to preserve the car and guarantee the win. Their tactics had been flawless throughout the event and they duly took the victory to move into the lead of the six-round series at the halfway point.
Elfyn Evans: “We went to Finland after having had some excellent preparation on the O.K. Auto-Ralli. We had a great start by setting the fastest time on one of the first day’s stages and then followed that by going quickest on the first stage on Day 2. Alastair Fisher was keeping us honest, but when he had his puncture it became a matter of balancing the pace and keeping out of trouble.
“We knew that some of Saturday’s stages had the potential of being quite rough away from the main roads, so the day was a balancing act between not taking risks and keeping up the pace. The win is a huge boost to the Championship for us; we now face some very different challenges in the second half of the year, but I’m really looking forward to going to Germany in only a few weeks time.”
Phil Pugh: “This was a brilliant result for us; this weekend was only my fourth rally with Elfyn and I have to keep reminding myself that he’s only 23! We didn’t put a wheel wrong all event and I think that’s down to the decision to do the Finnish Championship rally a fortnight before Rally Finland. Elfyn has clearly already got the speed and his confidence was exactly where it needed to be after that event. We now need to keep up the pace for the rest of the season.”