Secto Rally Finland is go for 2023 after the Harju stage in host city Jyväskylä launched round nine of the FIA World Rally Championship season in style this evening (Thursday).
A total of 19 000 fans lined the mixed-surface undulating stage, which features a combination of main Tarmac roads and parkland tracks. And they were treated to a display of superspecial-driving excellence from Ott Tänak.
A three-time Rally Finland winner, the Estonian was fastest of all on the 3.48-kilometre blast, taking 2m39.0s to complete the first of Secto Rally Finland’s 22 stages in his M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid.
Thierry Neuville was second fastest, 0.6s down on Tänak aboard his Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team i20 N Rally1 Hybrid with home hero Kalle Rovanperä just 0.1s down on Neuville in third.
The world champion and points leader after eight rounds made it three different manufacturers in the top three behind the wheel of the lead Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid, after he dropped precious time striking a kerb with his car’s right-rear wheel.
“The kerb was not so bad, it was quite small, I was knowing it was not so bad hit,” the 22-year-old Jyväskylä star said. “I can almost hear the people from inside of the car, I know how loud it is. It feels so amazing in the car when you know the atmosphere is so great.”
Following his stage-winning performance, Tänak said: “We need to risk and a lot more. We will try, we will put all in and let’s see where it gets us. The ones we are fighting against are very strong. We need to put everything on the line.”
Esapekka Lappi was fourth fastest, one place ahead of Elfyn Evans, who completed the stage with co-driver Scott Martin’s wing mirror missing. The Welshman also clipped a kerb with his Toyota’s right-rear wheel.
Teemu Suninen said Harju 1 “was not the best for us, it was okay but nothing more” after he went eighth quickest behind Jyväskylä-based Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta. Pierre-Louis Loubet was sixth in M-Sport’s second Puma.
After completing the opening timed test of his WRC comeback with the ninth fastest time, three-time Rally Finland winner Jari-Matti Latvala said: “Back in 2003, 20 years ago at my first WRC rally in Finland, I was so nervous that I was losing my eyesight before the stage. I was calm [now], Juho was controlling me and we had fun. I am happy to be back.”
Jari Huttunen was fastest of the WRC2 runners on his first appearance at world championship level in Škoda’s new-for-2023 Fabia RS Rally2.
There’s no rest on Secto Rally Finland, which continues on Friday morning with the 11.78-kilometre Laukaa test from 08h05.
Consisting of a new opening section, Laukaa is followed by the tweaked Lankamaa stage and Myhinpää, a legendary Rally Finland-style rollercoaster road over a distance of 15.51 kilometres.
The Halttula stage follows prior to service in Jyväskylä before the Friday morning stages are repeated in the afternoon with a return to the Harju city stage to round out the day’s competition from 20h05.
Photo: Toni Ollikainen/AKK