SS6-7: Latvala closes on Ogier
Jari-Matti Latvala outpaced leader Sébastien Ogier on both Friday’s afternoon’s opening stages at Neste Oil Rally Finland to reduce the gap between the dueling team-mates to 3.3sec.
Latvala won the second pass through Pihlajakoski by 0.7sec from his Volkswagen Polo R rival at a remarkable average of 133.26kph, before claiming back another 1.3sec in Päijälä as drizzle began to fall.
“I really had to focus and concentrate in Päijälä because I lost time there this morning, so I knew I had to perform well. There was a bit of dampness but it didn’t affect the grip, which was better this afternoon,” said Latvala.
Although he closed on Ogier, Latvala had only 3.9sec in hand over a rejuvenated Kris Meeke, who set a stunning fastest time in SS7. He was 3.0sec quicker than Latvala despite continuing to be affected by what he believes is a transmission issue in Citroën’s DS 3.
“Sometimes when you have a little issue, it focuses the mind. The car is wandering over the road, but I can talk to it in a straight line and in the corners it follows the ruts. It’s 99 per cent and I have to make the other one per cent,” said Meeke.
Hayden Paddon’s good run in fifth came to a violent end when the Kiwi crashed heavily 1km from the end of SS6. Both he and co-driver John Kennard, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his WRC debut, were unhurt.
After a trouble-filled morning, Robert Kubica retired his Ford Fiesta RS with an alternator problem at the mid-leg tyre zone. The Pole’s demise and Paddon’s crash promoted Dani Sordo to fifth, but he ended Päijälä with what could be a broken exhaust.
Team-mate Thierry Neuville climbed to sixth, but the Belgian continued to struggle with pace notes that were to slow for the roads.
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