Toyota driver Ott Tänak, co-driven by Martin Järveoja, has won Rally Finland for the second consecutive year, extending his lead of the drivers’ championship to 22 points over Sébastien Ogier. In total, the Estonian won six of the 23 stages, including the Power Stage, to claim the victory with a 25.6-second margin over Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi.
“I feel good, it’s been a big weekend,” said Tanak, who claimed his 10thwin of the season. “I think the summer break came at the right point. I was really devastated after losing my win at the last round in Sardinia and now it's the perfect result here in Finland. We’ve got five rallies left to go this year and we need five more results like this.”
Reaching the top
Tänak hit the front on Saturday, when Lappi also moved into the runner-up spot. The Finn was challenged by his compatriot and former rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala, whose Toyota topped the time sheets on Friday night, but Lappi was able to claim his second podium of 2019, after Sweden.
“I’m very happy for the team to get this second place in Finland, they deserve this so much,” said Lappi, the winner of two stages. “I’ve not been able to bring many good results this year and now finally I can do this, so thank you to all of them.”
Latvala started to reel in Lappi once more on Sunday, after losing time with an impact on Saturday that deranged the rear of his Yaris, but it wasn’t quite enough, and he finished 7.6 behind his compatriot, having won eight stages (more than anyone else) and claiming his own first podium since Australia last year. “It’s an important result as I had a lot of pressure,” said Latvala. “It wasn’t easy, as I know I made a few small mistakes.”
Best of the rest
Andreas Mikkelsen was the top finisher for Hyundai in fourth, which leads the manufacturers’ championship from Toyota. The team maintains its undesirable record of never finishing on the podium in Finland, but Mikkelsen was pleased with the development that has taken place on the i20 Coupe WRC. “I’d like to thank the team for all the hard work they have done to improve the car here,” said Mikkelsen. “It’s really beginning to pay off now. It’s not a podium, but I feel like my old self again now .”
Reigning champion Sébastien Ogier was fifth, having suffered with a stomach bug throughout Saturday that kept him up all Friday night. “Saturday was a real struggle and it definitely held me back,” said the Frenchman. “But I’ve been happy with the car and my driving under the circumstances. In the end, I did everything I could.”
Championship contender Thierry Neuville inherited sixth place after stand-in team mate Craig Breen moved aside for him on Sunday morning. Neuville struggled with pace from the start, but gradually improved his car’s set-up throughout the rally, after leading on Thursday night following the rally-opening super special. He ended the rally in style, jumping 60 metres in the Ruuhimäki Power Stage.
“I tried, but I’m not sure it was enough,” said the Belgian at the finish. “The most important thing is that we made some improvements to the car, but with the road-cleaning it was difficult this weekend. We didn’t have a very good test, so I didn’t find a very good feeling here from the beginning. It got better though, so I have to be satisfied.”
Happiness and disappointment
For Breen, it was a dream debut after he was called up for his first WRC rally of 2019. The Irishman set a couple of second-fastest stage times on the opening day, and spent most of the rally locked in a tense battle with Mikkelsen, Ogier, and Neuville before being asked to check in early on Sunday morning to boost Neuville’s score.
“It’s been pretty amazing, I have to say,” commented a delighted Breen. “I have to thank a lot of people. It’s so, so nice to be here competing again at this level again.”
Behind him, Ford driver Teemu Suninen was less happy, having finished in eighth place on his home event, after fighting for podiums in the past. He started the rally with high hopes but had to rapidly reassess his expectations over the three days. “It’s difficult to evaluate as I didn’t have a reference,” said Suninen. “I was quite happy with the driving, but it wasn’t enough. We have a lot of work to do before the next rally.”
The Finn’s only team mate in an identical car was Englishman Gus Greensmith – on only his second event in a World Rally Car – who was more than two minutes behind Suninen when he crashed on Sunday morning. Another Briton to crash was Toyota’s Kris Meeke, who was challenging for the lead early in the rally but crashed out of second place on Saturday and took a wheel off again after he re-started on Sunday.
WRC2 Pro and WRC2
The top WRC2 Pro finisher was Kalle Rovanperä in ninth overall, who took his fourth consecutive win in the category. This commanding performance made up for the disappointment of 2018, when the young Finn led but crashed. By contrast, Nikolay Gryazin took his very first WRC2 win at this level in another Skoda.
The championship now switches to asphalt, with Rallye Deutschland in Germany from August 22-25.
Photo: Toni Ollikainen/AKK