Finland, SS3-5: Tänak fends off Østberg
Neuville drops time after mistake
Two stage victories carried Ott Tänak into a slender lead over Mads Østberg following a fast and furious Friday morning at Neste Rally Finland.
After initially extending his overnight lead, Tänak yielded the initiative to the Norwegian, who topped the times in the Assamäki speed test. Østberg’s advantage was short lived as the Estonian won Äänekoski to claim a 1.1sec lead in his Toyota Yaris.
“We had maximum on every stage, obviously everyone was sleeping this morning!” said Tänak, who added his focus was on securing a good road position from which to attack tomorrow.
Østberg (pictured below) relished the upgraded set-up to his Citroën C3 but admitted to ‘a couple of mistakes’ in Äänekoski which undoubtedly cost him top spot.
The dry roads were made very slippery by loose gravel on the surface. The early starters suffered worst and what was already a difficult morning for Thierry Neuville became worse in Äänekoski when the championship leader went off.
“It was a pace note which was a bit too optimistic. I was thinking about correcting it but I didn’t hear the next note and went straight,” the Belgian explained.
He slithered down an escape road, damaging the rear of his Hyundai i20 and lost almost 30sec. He held 10th overall, 67.5sec behind Tänak.
Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top three in another Yaris, the Finn 9.7sec behind Østberg. A win in Urria and second in Assamäki kept the Finn right in the battle.
Haydon Paddon was fourth in another i20, a further 4.0sec back after a consistent morning which culminated in second fastest in Äänekoski.
He overhauled Teemu Suninen, who had been trading places with Latvala but was lucky to escape a massive incident near the finish. The young Finn lost the rear of his Ford Fiesta when braking for a fast left and bounced in and out of a ditch.
Elfyn Evans completed the top six ahead of Fiesta team-mate Sébastien Ogier. The Frenchman was almost 30sec adrift of Tänak, but nearly 40sec clear of title rival Neuville. Ogier suffered from starting second in the road order but enjoyed a clean morning.
A frustrated Esapekka Lappi was seventh after changing the set-up on his Yaris for every stage in an effort to improve grip. He was followed by Breen and Neuville.
Andreas Mikkelsen dropped three minutes after mishearing a pace note and tipping his Hyundai i20 onto its side in Ässämäki. The windscreen was broken in the crash and the Norwegian drove the final test with limited visibility and a flapping bonnet.
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