Last year’s Rally Finland winner Ott Tänak headed the times for Toyota on the shakedown this morning, held in cool and cloudy conditions. This year’s 4.26-kilometre shakedown stage, Vesala, featured fast roads that are typical of the 23 stages that start tonight, with Harju at 19:00.
Tänak said: “It’s been nice to have a little break since Sardinia, but it also creates a bit more excitement: I’m really feeling good for the second half of the season. During shakedown everything was good, no issues. I believe it should be fine for the weekend but for sure it will be a big fight.”
The championship leader’s preparation included victory on his home event, Rally Estonia, which all the factory teams contested as a warm-up for Finland last month. Second on the shakedown stage was Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, currently third in the title standings. Like Tanak, he was happy enough with the shakedown run. “I need to be ahead of my main rivals; we’re going to push and do our best,” he reported. “But it won’t be easy.”
Both Tanak and Neuville are locked in a close fight for the title with Citroen’s Sébastien Ogier: the top three covered by only seven points. But third on the shakedown stage was a more unfamiliar figure: Craig Breen, who is Hyundai’s guest driver this weekend.
“I’ve missed this so, so much!” said Breen, who won the Ypres Rally and is leading the Irish Tarmac Championship. “It’s only when you get back in a proper rally car like this one that you realise what it’s all about. I just can't wait for the rally to start.”
Andreas Mikkelsen made it three Hyundais in the top five of the shakedown times, just ahead of Teemu Suninen in the leading Ford Fiesta WRC, who was second on the last round of the championship in Sardinia and is now hoping to star at home. “I believe we’ve done good work with the car,” commented Suninen. “It’s better than last year but the question is how much everyone else has improved.”
Reigning world champion Sébastien Ogier was sixth-fastest, having last won in Finland in 2013, but the Frenchman is feeling optimistic with the latest upgrades on his Citroen C3 WRC. “For sure we hope for the best,” he said. “We had a positive test and the feeling was good, so let’s see what we can do this weekend.”
The Toyotas of Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala set exactly the same times, in seventh and eighth places on the shakedown, while the other Citroen of Esapekka Lappi was ninth and Kalle Rovanpera, the favourite in WRC2 Pro, was fastest in class and 10thoverall with his Skoda Fabia on the shakedown. Rovanpera said: “I love the awesome roads here! This is the best rally on the calendar so you can just enjoy them all the time. This stage was actually really slippery, I’m not sure why though.”
Finland is also the penultimate round of the Junior WRC, with Tom Kristensson topping the shakedown times in his Ford Fiesta R2T. Flying Finn Future Star Sami Pajari was 11th.
Results, Shakedown Vesala
1. Ott Tänak (EST) 1.53,8
2. Thierry Neuville (BEL) + 0,3
3. Craig Breen (IRL) + 0,8
4. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR) + 0,9
5. Teemu Suninen (FIN) + 1,0
7. Jari-Matti Latvala (FIN) + 1,2
9. Esapekka Lappi (FIN) + 1,5
Picture: Toni Ollikainen / AKK