Home hero Latvala leads in Finland overnight

The first full day of Rally Finland is over, with the crews having completed 126.55 competitive kilometres today and a total of 11 stages up until now (including Thursday night’s opening stage).

This morning ended with three Toyotas occupying the top three places, but at the end of the day there’s a red interloper: with Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi breaking the home team’s monopoly in third.

There’s also a change in leader, with Ott Tänak slipping down the order as he struggled with the ruts in the afternoon from first on the road, being passed by both his Toyota team mates as well as Lappi.

Local hero

As a result, the ever-popular Jari-Matti Latvala occupies the top slot on the leaderboard overnight, having won nearly all of the afternoon’s stages. “I knew that Ott had the more difficult job as the ruts are very narrow and he had to open them,” Latvala said. “Kris Meeke and Esapekka have been driving very well too. It’s very tight at the top still; tomorrow will be an extremely important day.”

The top six are covered by less than 15 seconds, and Latvala’s team mate Meeke is only 1.2 seconds behind him. “I’ve enjoyed my day,” said Meeke. “Everyone in the top four has given their maximum: it’s a great fight.” At one point, after SS8, three drivers in the top four were tied on identical times, only 0.6 seconds off the lead.

In third place overnight is Lappi, who regularly set top-three stages times in the afternoon after adjusting the set-up of his C3 WRC to cope with the rougher roads of this afternoon. “It’s working well, commented the Finn. “I’m not thinking about winning; I’m just taking it one stage at a time. This is top level sport; so close.”

Lappi is 1.2 seconds behind Meeke, while Tänak in fourth is a tiny 0.2 seconds behind Lappi. “The road cleaning is worse on the second passage,” said the former leader. “It’s just so hard to cope with the ruts. Still, I think it was a good day, everything considered. We’ll see what tomorrow brings. No doubt it will be another big push.”

Hyundai’s battle

The two Hyundais of Craig Breen and Andreas Mikkelsen are locked in a battle for fifth behind him, with Breen losing a bit of the confidence he showed in the morning, when he was able to get in among the leaders. The bonnet partially opening on Moksi 2 and blocking the Irishman’s  view certainly didn’t help. He’s now only 1.8 seconds ahead of Mikkelsen, who enjoyed another strong run in the afternoon.

Sebastien Ogier, less than two seconds behind them in seventh, was also the victim of a bizarre incident on Moksi. As happened once before this year, in Chile, his Citroen’s in-car fire extinguisher went off on its own, making it difficult for Ogier to breathe for a while. The Frenchman said that he had given today everything he could – and with the gaps so small, it was important to keep pushing.

Going backwards

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was less happy, having led the rally last night but finishing Friday in eighth overall, half a minute behind the leader. In the morning he felt he had no pace, but the Belgian said it was a bit better in the afternoon. “It’s not easy to keep up the speed,” he added. “But at least we’ve pushed hard all day. And we’re going to keep pushing, because the rally is still very long.”

Ninth was M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen, who described his day simply as “sh*t”, before explaining: “It was quite frustrating not to be on the pace. I felt I did my best. I can find a few more tenths but not three or four seconds. Luckily, tomorrow is another day.”

He headed his Ford Fiesta WRC team mate Gus Greensmith, who completed the overall top 10, while 11th placed WRC2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä enjoyed a more positive afternoon after making some changes to his Skoda Fabia R5 at midday service to reduce oversteer. 

As usual, it was a frantic battle in the Junior WRC standings. While Tom Kristensson led throughout the day, the runner-up spot was closely-fought.

Tomorrow, eight more stages are on the menu, starting with Pihlajakoski 1 at 08:08.

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