Mads Østberg has gained an early edge over his Neste Rally Finland rivals with the fastest time in shakedown this morning.
Østberg, in a Citroën C3 WRC, set a best time of 1m54.8s over the 4.26-kilometre stage at Vesala. The Norwegian’s team-mate, Craig Breen, was second quickest to underline a strong start to Finland’s round of the FIA Wold Rally Championship for the French squad.
Following his pacesetting run, Østberg said recent changes to the C3 WRC – including tweaks to the front axle geometry – had made a difference.
“It’s really important to have a good feeling in the shakedown. It’s a confirmation that what we did in testing was working well. I was confident after the test and I am still confident so that’s good.
“I’ve driven the car for some rallies now but I was never really happy with the balance. Now it feels much more balanced. We also introduced some new differentials for [Finland] and it’s working really well. All drivers have a particular driving style. I need a lot of reaction from the front, I need a lot of brake stability in the car and I need to be able to go early on the throttle which means I need quite a soft rear diff to be able to go early on the speed. The car is more for me now.”
Of his hopes of converting his shakedown pace into a Neste Rally Finland-winning performance, Østberg said: “I can do what I did this morning definitely, it’s more depending on what the others can do from now until the rally. I felt really confident this morning. There is no doubt in what I did and I managed to slowly increase the speed run by run. It’s a good feeling and I am confident with everything we have done.”
Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala was the fastest Finnish driver in third on a 1m55.9s with team-mate Ott Tänak fourth, the Estonian setting a 1m56.6s best in his Yaris WRC.
Teemu Suninen (1m56.6s) was fifth quickest for M-Sport as world championship leader Thierry Neuville ended up as the fastest of the Hyundai trio with a 1m56.6s. Team-mates Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon were next followed by Esapekka Lappi (Toyota) and Sébastien Ogier (M-Sport).
Finnish teenager Kalle Rovanperä was fastest in the WRC2 category with ŠKODA team-mate Ole Christian Veiby just behind.
This morning’s shakedown gave drivers and teams the final opportunity to finalise car set-up for Neste Rally Finland, which gets underway with the Harju street stage in Jyväskylä from 19:00 local time.