Ott Tänak will take a slender 0.7s lead into Friday’s 10-stage first leg after he topped the timesheets on the streets of Jyväskylä this evening to open his Neste Rally Finland account in style.
Driving a TOYOTA GAZOO Racing Yaris WRC with its newly-homologated engine designed to deliver more torque, Tänak took 1m49.2s to complete the 2.31-kilometre Harju superspecial. He edged world championship title fighters Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier, who complete the provisional podium for the Hyundai and M-Sport teams respectively.
But with the high-speed forest stages next up from 08:18 local time on Friday, Estonian Tänak admits he’s got a fight on his hands to stave off the threat posed by his team-mates and Flying Finns Esapekka Lappi – the winner in Finland 12 months ago – and Jari-Matti Latvala, a three-time winner of his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
“They are the home boys and they know how to manage these roads so it will be a great challenge,” said Tänak at the finish of the Harju stage, which took place in slightly damp conditions following a light rain shower. “It will be a great challenge, we have the same tools and it’s up to me to be quicker than them.”
Neuville, who heads Ogier by 27 points in the championship battle, was 0.1s quicker than the Frenchman, the five-time WRC champion. “It’s only by one-tenth and it’s going to be a close fight this weekend. I tried to be careful and with the rain I was not sure how slippery this stage would be. We’ve made some improvements to the car and hopefully we can be better than last year.
Behind Ogier, Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth quickest with Lappi in fifth. Mads Østberg, who headed Craig Breen in a Citroën C3 WRC 1-2 in shakedown this morning, again outpaced his team-mate, going sixth quickest with Breen in seventh following the mixed-surface stage. Latvala is eighth overnight, Elfyn Evans ninth and Hayden Paddon 10th, one place ahead of Finnish rising star Teemu Suninen.
Hopes of a home win in WRC2 are high after Kalle Rovanperä set the pace in the world championship’s second tier in 12th overall. Ken Torn was quickest in WRC3 and JWRC, while Future Rally Star of Finland, Henri Hokkala, was 12th in class on his world championship debut.
The rally continues with ten special stages on Friday 27th July.
Photo: Taneli Niinimäki / AKK