Toyota in front of Rally Finland halfway through day one

With the first cool and cloudy morning of Rally Finland complete, it’s a Toyota one-two-three so far on the team’s home event – as many people expected before the rally started.

On top after the first five gravel stages today is championship leader Ott Tänak. Once more, he was running first on the road, having to sweep away loose gravel for those following. “It’s difficult,” said Tänak. “It’s a big job so I’m finding it hard. All the roads are very loose and there’s not much we can do. So far I’ve done well but we’re really on the limit.”

He’s only 5.4 seconds ahead of his team mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who won more stages than anyone else this morning. The Finn was delayed slightly by a puncture on SS5, the same issue that affected his team mate Kris Meeke, who completed the top three at lunchtime just 0.4 seconds behind Latvala. 

“I think the puncture was where some rocks came out earlier in the stage,” said Latvala. “Apart from that I’m feeling good: just concentrating on the driving. I made some small mistakes on Moksi but I had a good feeling with Urria: the car was jumping very well.” 

Kris Meeke, celebrating his 100thrally, added: “I just need to tidy up the slow stuff a bit and then we’ll be OK. I’m really enjoying it; it was important for me to get through this loop cleanly, as 85% of the stages were new to me. I think I can improve a bit.” All the stage wins were shared by Toyota this morning: three to Latvala, plus one each to Meeke and Tänak.

Best of the rest was Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi, holding a solid fourth after a fault-free run. He paid tribute to Tänak, saying: “This Estonian guy is crazy: very impressive! But we’ve driven some good stages, it’s hard to do better. Our car is nice; it all feels easy. Still, the Toyotas are in front.” He’s less than seven seconds off the lead though, so all to play for.

The top Hyundai is surprisingly new arrival Craig Breen, after setting two second-fastest stage times. He was also the man showing the most enthusiasm for this weekend’s stages, despite feeling he had gone too soft on his i20 Coupe WRC’s set-up. “I went hard in Urria – and Jesus did I enjoy it!” said the Irishman. “This is what I wake up in the morning for!”

All the lead gaps were relatively small on the short, sharp Finnish stages: Citroen’s Sébastien Ogier was only 3.5 seconds behind Breen in sixth, but not entirely clear on the way to improve. “It’s very slippery so I feel we should get quicker later,” said Ogier. “I’m actually happy with the car; I have a good feeling. I’m not sure what I can do to make it faster.”

The reigning champion led the two Hyundais of Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville, with the Norwegian considerably happier than the Belgian, who led last night after SS1. While Mikkelsen said his feeling with the car was great, Neuville commented: “It’s quite frustrating as we are trying hard. If I try more, I go off. I’m trying to take the cuts but it’s a bit risky; you don’t know what’s in there. We’re going to change some things in service.”

Teemu Suninen was the leading Ford Fiesta WRC in ninth, despite losing a big chunk of his front splitter this morning, half a minute ahead of his 10th-placed team mate Gus Greensmith – on only his second event in a World Rally Car. For him, it’s all about learning.

Leading the WRC2 Pro category was Kalle Rovanpera in 11thoverall, but it was far from plain sailing for the Skoda Fabia R5 driver, who was suffering from too much oversteer.

“All the time the car is everywhere and sliding; not so much grip,” said the 18-year-old. “We’re losing a lot of time on the exit of each corner. Definitely a few things for us to look at during service.”

At least he gets to see service, back at the Paviljonki at Jyväskylä. The first stage of the day ended in disaster for local hero Erik Pietarinen, who hit a bank and had a high speed spin. With extensive damage to the front of his Skoda, he retired from the day. Emil Lindholm  was also reported as having stopped his Volkswagen Polo R5 car in Moksi.

Meanwhile, in the Junior WRC category, Tom Kristensson leads the one-make Fiesta R2T category by just 17 seconds from Dennis Rådström, both from Sweden.

Photo: McKlein

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