Latvala and Ogier battle for lead in repeat of 2014 Rally Finland

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By Olivier Ferret

31 July 2015 - 21:42
Latvala and Ogier battle for lead (...)

Jumps, high speeds and records – the 42nd Rally Finland kicked off in spectacular fashion. At the centre of the action: the battle between Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) and Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), who are embroiled in a thrilling duel for the lead at this classic round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Just 2.6 seconds separate the two Volkswagen duos at the halfway point, having completed a good 160 kilometres of the 320 kilometres against the clock. An average speed of 126.34 kilometres per hour on gravel produced a duel played out at full throttle. For comparison: the fastest WRC rally to date came in 2012, when an average speed of 122.89 km/h was achieved. Of this year’s ten special stages so far, nine went to Wolfsburg – either to Latvala or Ogier.

The legendary “Ouninpohja” stage played a key role on the Friday of the rally. This spectacular gravel route through the forests around Jyväskylä is the rallying equivalent of the Nürburgring-Nordschleife. On their second attempt at this iconic stage, Latvala/Anttila set a new record of 132.18 km/h on their way to the 400th stage win of their career. In doing so, they also wrestled the lead away from team-mates Ogier/Ingrassia. However, even higher speeds were achieved on two other special stages, when the drivers tackled “Pihlajakoski“ and „Päijälä“ for the second time, producing speeds of 133.26 and 133.17 km/h respectively.

In stark contrast, the rally came to a premature end for Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (N/N) in the third Polo R WRC. The second-placed pair in the World Championship left the road on the fifth stage, “Himos”, and rolled several times at high speed. Fortunately they were unhurt. As the damage to the Polo R WRC was too extensive to repair the car on-site, they are unable to rejoin the race under Rally 2 regulations. However, the World Rally Car will be ready for action again by the Rally Australia.

Quotes after day one of the Rally Finland

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1

“I am very happy with my day here in Finland. The routes are fantastic, particularly ‘Ouninpohja’. This stage really is an experience and is probably the best special stage of the whole year. The speed, the many jumps and the rapid changes in direction make it feel like a rollercoaster ride. As a driver, you get one adrenalin rush after another over the entire 34.39 kilometres. It is just magnificent! Compliments to Jari-Matti Latvala, who has been impressive on home soil – as you would expect. If we are to beat him, Julien and I will have to push as hard as we can for the next two days. However, driving so close to the limit is not without its risks – as my team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen’s crash showed. It is lucky they both emerged unscathed – when it comes to it, that is the most important thing.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2

“It really was great fun today. I am particularly pleased to have made peace with ‘Ouninpohja’. I have never driven as well here as I did today. As a Finn, this stage is very prestigious, just as it is to lead your home rally. However, we still have two long days ahead of us, and the routes will once again push us to the limit tomorrow. The key now is to keep our rhythm and a cool head.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9

“We had set our sights very high for the Rally Finland. Above all, we wanted to defend second place in the World Championship – and to extend our advantage if possible. Unfortunately, however, today was not our day and we crashed out. My pace notes were a little too optimistic on the fifth stage. I lifted in a long left-hander with a slight crest, which can be taken flat-out in perfect conditions. However, that did not prove to be enough. We ran out of road and rolled several times. Fortunately the Polo R WRC is a very solid car and nothing serious happened to us. We are obviously very disappointed that the damage is too great to be able to repair it on-site.”

Jost Capito, Volkswagen Motorsport Director

“Jari-Matti Latvala versus Sébastien Ogier – that was a fantastic duel here in Finland in 2014 too. And this battle is the main event again this year. We are obviously delighted that two Volkswagen drivers are scrapping for the lead. As always, our team philosophy is: may the best man win. However, we experienced both light and shadow today. Andreas Mikkelsen rolled his car at high speed and was forced to retire from the rally. However, the good news is that he and his co-driver Ola Fløene are fine – thanks in no small part to the fact that the Polo R WRC is a safe and solid car. The fact that the chassis will be ready to race again in Australia is further proof of this.”

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