Toyota’s Ott Tänak has pulled out a lead of 13.8 seconds by Saturday lunchtime in Finland, but it’s been a tricky morning for the home team, despite having two cars in first and second.
Tänak made the most of not running first on the road today, benefitting from stages that were at last relatively free of loose gravel by virtue of his start order. “I’m in a very good clean rhythm now,” he said. “There were some new sections that were quite tricky and my team mates were pushing me hard.”
The risks of Rally Finland
This was certainly true. Jari-Matti Latvala claimed the lead on SS13 but lost it on SS14 (Kakaristo) when he came to the end of the stage with extensive damage to the rear-left, having lost a lot of time on the final split. “It happened in a right-hand corner,” he explained. “Last year they had concrete on the inside of a corner to stop people cutting but this year they removed the concrete, so I made my notes faster and that was my mistake. I hit a rock the size of a head and damaged the car.”
Despite losing the aerodynamics to the back of the car, having tried to fix as much as he could with duck tape, Latvala actually won the following stage, Leustu, to maintain second place overall.
There was worse for his team mate Kris Meeke. The Northern Irishman was faster than Tänak on SS13 to move to within half a second of the overall lead but stopped 8.8 kilometres into Kakaristo. His team boss Tommi Mäkinen explained what had happened. “He had a fifth-gear slide and broke the rear suspension,” said Mäkinen. “We discussed what to do before today and told our drivers to keep going calmly. But sometimes when you wear the helmet it's hard to remember the discussion earlier! I totally understand, but we’re very disappointed.”
This puts Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi on the provisional podium, but the Finn was under no illusions. “We have the same pace as before: I’m on the absolute limit,” he said. “But Tänak has a good road position and there’s no chance to catch him: I knew that before the rally. Our car is good, but we just don’t have enough downforce at the moment.”
A close fight
Behind him, the battle of the Hyundais still raged, with the Citroen of Sébastien Ogier involved as well. Mikkelsen passed Breen for fifth on the opening stage, but then Breen took the place back on the second stage. By the time they got to service Mikkelsen was fourth overall and Breen was sixth – with Ogier in between them in fifth. Incredibly, less than 2.5 seconds separated the three of them.
The hero of the day was Ogier, who hauled himself back up the order despite feeling unwell.
“I emptied myself all night – you don’t want to know the details – but I’m still trying to fight as I don’t want to give this one up,” explained the reigning champion. “I hardly slept last night, so now I’m going to have a nap at service and hopefully I will feel better this afternoon.
The other Hyundai of Thierry Neuville is closing up to their battle, having found a slightly better feeling with the car and the roads. “Since yesterday I’ve been pushing really hard,” explained the Belgian. “I had a really good stage in Kakaristo but I have to be a bit clever and think of the championship as well. So not too many risks.”
Disappointment and success
The Ford Fiesta WRC cars of Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith (who was first on the road today) were in eighth and ninth, separated by nearly a minute and a half. Suninen arrived in service 37 seconds behind Neuville and was not happy. “I know what I’m capable of, and it’s not this,” he pointed out.
The top 10 was completed by WRC2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä, who enjoyed a commanding advantage in the class, having completed a trouble-free run on Saturday morning. Tom Kristensson continues to lead Junior WRC, as he has done since the first stage yesterday morning.
Four stages remain today, an exact repeat of those run in the morning, with uncertain weather – including rain – possible.
Photo: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK