TOYOTA GAZOO Racing moves into lead in World Rally Championship with win in Rally Sweden

The Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 car, running a hybrid powertrain, scored its first win in Rally Sweden, the second round of 2022 World Rally Championship with Kalle Rovanpera at the wheel. It was the Finn’s third victory and added another WRC win to the Rovanpera family as his father had won the event 21 years ago in a Peugeot.

Rally Sweden is the WRC’s only snow event (and one of the fastest) and in the early stages, at least 5 drivers were in contention to win. For most of the rally, all three of the TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT’s drivers were in close fight for victory on the unfamiliar, high-speed, snow-covered roads (because of the new location nearer the Arctic Circle).

Rovanpera was disadvantaged to be first off the line as the highest-placed driver in the championship, and Ott Tanak of the Hyundai Motorsport team was able to take the opening stage win and build up a lead. However, the Toyota driver regained the initiative early on the second leg and then won the first of Sunday’s 4 stages to extend his lead which he held till the finish.

Hybrid powertrains have issues
Rovanpera’s team mate Elfan Evans was penalised 10 seconds overnight after an incident at the end of Saturday’s final stage, but his hopes of victory were ended in Sunday’s opener. Having started with the centrally-supplied hybrid system deactivated due to an issue, Evans then had a spin in the stage and damaged the front of the car. After stopping to make repairs he reached the end of the stage but, with the hybrid unit not showing the green light as required, was forced to retire in accordance with FIA safety procedures.

Rovanpera’s car also had hybrid issues as did Tanak’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1 car. While disappointing, this was not unexpected (especially in the extremely cold conditions) and Akio Toyoda, the boss of TOYOTA GAZOO Racing, expressed a positive view. He said that they ‘gained precious data on how to improve the hybrid system in the harsh cold environment which he hopes can be used not only to win next year but also to provide data to suppliers in the quest to make ever better cars.

Rovanpera’s fellow Finnish driver Esapekka Lappi finished third to complete a double podium finish for the team on his first start for TGR since 2018. Lappi was in a close fight for second position throughout Sunday, ultimately finishing just 8.6 seconds away as he completed a fantastic comeback during the final day.

Solid drive by Ford’s Greensmith
M Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith with co-driver Jonas Andersson would see their confident and solid drive rewarded with a second consecutive fifth overall finish. The weekend had proven a challenge for the team, with Craig Breen retiring on Friday after getting stuck in a snowbank in the second half of SS2. Once free from the snow, the car was driven back to service where it was repaired for the Saturday stages.

The second day of competition would see Breen claim his first stage win as an M-Sport driver and simultaneously a first stage win for the Puma Rally1 Hybrid on snow and ice. However, further bad luck would see the car suffer an electrical issue, cutting power after a small bump. The crew would utilise the new hybrid technology to allow them to drive some of the stage in full Electric mode before pulling over to make bigger repairs.

Although they were able to find and fix the fault, they would be over their allotted time limit and forced to retire for the day. The final day would see Breen drive through the stages preserving his tyres for the all-important Power Stage where he would take a vital point to go towards his championship tally.

Hyundai team unsatisfied despite podium finish
The podium finish by Thierry Neuville was consolation for the Hyundai Motorsport team but they were far from satisfied with how things went. “There are not really many positives for us to take away,” said Tanak, who was forced to retire due to hybrid problems. “Overall, it has been a frustrating and disappointing weekend. On the plus side, we showed that we had the pace to be competitive.

“We know there is still work to be done, and improvements we need to make on the car, but we have shown we’re getting there. This is an important result, but we hope it’s just the start of our return to the top,” added the team’s deputy director, Julien Moncet.

Rovanpera leads in the Drivers Championship with 46 points, 14 points ahead of Neuville and 19 points ahead of Sebastien Loeb. The TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team has collected a total of 83 points after two rounds, with M-Sport Ford 24 points behind, followed by the Hyundai Shell Mobis team 36 points behind the leader.

Round 3 of the WRC moves to Croatia on April 21 and hopefully, the conflict in Ukraine will have ended by then.

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