SS22-23: Intense podium fight
Suninen, Evans and Hänninen fight for second
As Esapekka Lappi maintained a firm grip on the lead of Neste Rally Finland on Sunday morning, attention turned to a thrilling three-car battle for second.
The Finn emerged from the opening Lempää and Oittila tests with a 42.2sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris, but behind him Teemu Suninen, Elfyn Evans and Juho Hänninen were engaged in a titanic scrap.
Second fastest for Hänninen in Lempää left the Finn tied with fellow countryman Suninen in second place. Evans was third quickest in his Ford Fiesta and the Welshman was 2.0sec behind in fourth.
Evans was distracted when the wipers jammed across his windscreen but Suninen was more concerned. “We struggled for grip all the time, we need to find something for the next stage,” said the Fiesta pilot.
He did exactly that to pip Evans by 0.5sec, with Hänninen a further 2.2sec behind in his Yaris. With two stages remaining, Suninen held a 2.5sec advantage over Evans, with Hänninen a further two-tenths back in fourth.
The slippery Oittila caught out both Evans and Hänninen. “I went wide on two junctions. It was exceptionally changeable grip and difficult to read the road,” said Evans. Hänninen explained: “I lost it quite soon after the start. I went wide on a left corner and hit a hay bale.”
And Suninen’s secret to his pace? “I can’t say because we’re in a tight fight,” he said.
Fifth-placed Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville, one place behind, overshot junctions in Oittila but Lappi remained as cool and calm as he has all weekend.
“I’m just trying to enjoy it but it’s difficult when you’re not pushing flat out. It’s not so enjoyable, you need to drive flat out for all the aero and the functions on the car to work. I don’t want to do anything stupid because you can’t trust the grip. It will be fine.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was fastest in both stages, Toyota Gazoo Racing having diagnosed the problem that stopped his leading Yaris yesterday as a faulty ECU.
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