Latvala holds the advantage in Finland
The Finn in front heading into day three
Jari-Matti Latvala will start the final day of Neste Oil Rally Finland with a 9.1-second lead over Petter Solberg following a dramatic start to the event, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year.
Finn Latvala has never won his home rally before in seven previous attempts and will have to withstand huge pressure from Solberg - who has also yet to win the high-speed event - over the final eight all-gravel stages on Saturday, when he will also have to clear the road of the loose surface gravel by running at the head of the field.
“Running third on the road gave me a bit of an advantage today,” said Latvala. “Maybe I took it too carefully at times but we’ll try to keep up this pace tomorrow.”
Latvala moved into the lead after going fastest through the first Sirkkamaki stage on Friday afternoon and has continued to edge clear in his works Ford Focus. But while Latvala celebrated a successful first day in Finland, his team-mate and countryman Mikko Hirvonen was left to reflect on what might have been after crashing out of first place in spectacular fashion on stage four.
“The dream is over and it’s just disappointing but at least we were on the pace before it happened,” said Hirvonen, whose retirement elevated Solberg into the rally lead before Latvala moved ahead three stages later. “I am very comfortable, confident and relaxed,” said the Citroen privateer. “I am not taking any big risks.”
Dani Sordo completed the opening loop of stages in third place but slipped to fifth as fellow Citroen drivers Sebastien Ogier (third) and Sebastien Loeb (fourth) edged ahead, despite spending much of the day saddled by cleaning the road.
World championship leader Loeb’s fastest time through stage 10 was achieved at an average speed of 133kph, which is believed to be a Rally Finland record.
Matthew Wilson is sixth overnight in his Stobart M-Sport Ford Focus. The young Briton was caught up in heavy rain close to the end of stage seven and also reported a minor handling glitch in the afternoon.
Henning Solberg had climbed to fifth when he slid into a ditch on a left-hander on stage eight and rolled twice, coming to a rest upside down against a tree.
Four-time world champion Juha Kankkunen is up to seventh on his one-off return to the WRC. The 51-year-old is closely followed by ex-Formula One world champion Kimi Raikkonen, whom he vowed to try to beat before the start.
Mads Ostberg will start day two in touching distance of the top 10 as he continues to claw back time following his moment on stage five when a heavy landing on a rock broke his Subaru Impreza’s front-right wheel.
Abu Dhabi’s Khalid Al-Qassimi had been in the top 10 when he rolled into retirement on stage six. He was one of four drivers to crash on the Lankamaa test, which prompted organisers to award notional times to a number of competitors when the stage had to be halted.
Rally Finland concludes with eight further stages on Saturday. Action gets underway at 0733hrs local time with the first car due to reach the finish in Jyvaskyla at 1945hrs. Occasional rain showers are being forecast.
Overall standings after SS11:
|01||Jari-Matti LATVALA||Ford Focus WRC||1h10m30.7s|
|02||Petter SOLBERG||Citroën C4 WRC||+9.1s|
|03||Sébastien OGIER||Citroën C4 WRC||+21.8s|
|04||Sébastien LOEB||Citroën C4 WRC||+32.0s|
|05||Dani SORDO||Citroën C4 WRC||+43.7s|
|06||Matthew WILSON||Ford Focus WRC||+2m35.3s|
|07||Juha KANKKUNEN||Ford Focus WRC||+3m10.7s|
|08||Kimi RÄIKKÖNEN||Citroën C4 WRC||+3m18.2s|
|09||Juho HÄNNINEN||Skoda Fabia S2000||+3m44.3s|
|10||Matti RANTANEN||Skoda Fabia S2000||+4m25.4s|
|11||Mads ÖTSBERG||Subaru Impreza WRC||+4m31.2s|
|12||Per Gunnar ANDERSSON||Skoda Fabia S2000||+4m38.4s|
|13||Patrik SANDELL||Skoda Fabia S2000||+5m13.7s|
|14||Toni GARDEMEISTER||Ford Fiesta S2000||+5m19.9s|
|15||Mattias THERMAN||Ford Focus WRC||+5m50.3s|
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