Sebastien Ogier expects Toyota to set the Rally Finland pace this season – but the Frenchman won’t be distracted in his championship battle with Thierry Neuville.
Toyota dominated last year’s WRC round in Finland, with Esapekka Lappi taking victory, and the defending world champion expects more of the same from the Yaris this week.
Ogier starts the second half of the season chasing a 27-point deficit to Neuville, the first time in six years he’s turned around in anywhere but the top of the table.
And it’s that fight for a sixth straight WRC crown that will take his attention in Jyvaskyla.
“We know Toyota is testing a lot in Finland and their car is very strong on these kind of roads. I think they will be the benchmark this week,” Ogier told Motorsport.com.
“But as well as the car, they have two Finnish drivers (Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi) and they have Ott [Tanak] – all of them love the fast stuff.
“We saw their speed last year and I think there’s a very good chance they will be the ones to beat.”
Ogier’s M-Sport Ford teammate Elfyn Evans shared those sentiments.
The Welshman said: “The Toyotas were uncatchable last year and we’ll have to see how much we have found this year – but they also have three drivers who are very strong. I’m going there aiming for the win, that’s what you have to do.
“I love this rally, it’s the best on the calendar for a driver. In terms of the atmosphere, Wales is always special for me, but in terms of the driving thrill nowhere can compete with the jumps, the wide roads and feeling you get there.”
On the subject of his title battle, Ogier added: “Of course, a win would be the best result for me. But my fight with Thierry is more important.”
Toyota driver Ott Tanak is third in the championship and chasing a first Finland win for an Estonian since Markko Martin’s 2003 victory. The Rally Argentina winner wasn’t about to be taken in by Ogier’s talk.
Tanak told Motorsport.com: “We know what Ogier is like, we know what a fighter he can be. It will be the same like always, a close fight.
“I feel good for this rally. We did [Rally] Estonia and the car felt good, we made some interesting steps with the suspension and I think we are ready.
“It would be nice to beat the Finns in their own backyard – but that’s not going to be easy, there are four of them in good cars with a very good chance this year.
“And it’s not just the Finns, there’s Sebastien and, we saw last year when he was on the podium in Finland, Elfyn will be quick as well. It’s always a big fight on this rally, but it would be good to go there and make life difficult for the locals.”