Rally Finland, friday: Latvala edges into narrow lead
Leading quartet covered by less than 3sec
SS2-3: Tänak tops Toyota trio
Ott Tänak headed a Toyota Gazoo Racing 1-2-3 after Friday morning’s opening two speed tests at Neste Rally Finland.
The FIA World Rally Championship leader lay second after Thursday night’s short curtain-raiser through the streets of host town Jyväskylä, but moved to the front as this eighth round of the season switched to gravel forest roads.
Fourth in Oittila was sufficient to promote him to the top of the rankings. Second through Moksi left the Yaris driver with a slender 0.3sec advantage over team-mate Kris Meeke.
The Estonian is opening the road today and admitted that creating a line through the slippery surface gravel was far from straight forward.
“It’s difficult, it’s a big job. I’m trying hard but it’s not so easy. The car feels really good and I will do everything I can. Let’s see what is possible, but today will be difficult,” he said.
Having missed last year’s rally, Meeke was delighted with a start that produced third fastest in Oittila and a stage win in Moksi.
“I’m really enjoying it. Here, I was a bit scrappy. A couple of junctions I came into too fast. We just need to tidy up in the loose stuff and I think we can improve,” said the Briton at the finish of Moksi.
Jari-Matti Latvala was 3.4sec further back in third, the Finn admitting to a few mistakes in Moksi, but rounding off an impressive show of strength from Toyota on roads close to its team base.
Esapekka Lappi was fourth in a Citroën C3, a second behind his fellow Finn. Team-mate Sébastien Ogier and Craig Breen, driving a Hyundai i20 for the first time in the WRC, rounded off a top six blanketed by 9.0sec.
A despondent Thierry Neuville trailed in ninth, already 17.3sec behind title rival Tänak. The Belgian felt his i20 was too soft initially, but was also perplexed by pace note issues.
SS4-6: Tänak widens lead
Ott Tänak stretched his Neste Rally Finland lead to 5.4sec at the midpoint of Friday’s opening leg as his Toyota Gazoo Racing team continued to dominate the early stages.
Tänak, handicapped by opening the slippery gravel roads in his Yaris, claimed his first fastest time in Ässämäki. That was sandwiched by two wins for team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in Urria and Äänekoski as Yaris cars filled the top three overall.
The Estonian admitted he had not expected to lead from first in the start order.
“For sure not. It has been very demanding with a lot of loose, so really slippery. Luckily we managed to get a good feeling from the start and the flow was good, but I was on the limit all the time. A couple of small mistakes but otherwise it was very smooth and consistent,” he said.
Latvala held second after a fast and furious morning through forests near Jyväskylä. The Finn demoted Kris Meeke by four-tenths in Äänekoski, but both lost time to Tänak in the previous test after left-sided punctures.
Esapekka Lappi maintained his strong start on home territory in fourth in a Citroën C3. He was 1.1sec adrift of Meeke and 2.2sec clear of an impressive Craig Breen, driving a Hyundai i20 for the first time in the WRC.
The Irishman posted a run of three second fastest times and missed out on sharing victory with Latvala in Äänekoski by just a tenth.
World champion Sébastien Ogier completed a top six covered by only 12.6sec in another C3. The Frenchman said: “I’m happy with what I’ve done. The pace that Ott has from first on the road is unbelievable and there’s no way we can match that.”
Andreas Mikkelsen was seventh, 10.0sec ahead of struggling team-mate Thierry Neuville, who planned set-up changes to his i20 in service. “
"I have some ideas to work on. We tested in the rain and perhaps that’s why I missed some speed,” said the Belgian.
Teemu Suninen was more than half a minute off the lead in ninth, after losing his Ford Fiesta’s front splitter early on and haemorraghing up to 0.3sec per kilometre due to the lack of aero.
M-Sport Ford team-mate Gus Greensmith was 10th, despite spinning in Ässämäki.
SS7-8: Latvala leads Finland thriller
Jari-Matti Latvala claimed the lead of an incredibly tense Neste Rally Finland on Friday afternoon in which three drivers were tied for second – just six-tenths behind!
The Finn won the repeated Moksi speed test to demote Toyota Yaris team-mate Ott Tänak to second by 0.4sec, with Kris Meeke and Esapekka Lappi chasing hard less than two seconds adrift.
Remarkably the situation became even closer after the following Urria test. Third fastest time enabled Latvala to eke his advantage out to 0.6sec, but Tänak, Meeke and Lappi could not be separated behind.
“Ott has the most difficult job now because the ruts are narrow and he’s opening the road. We had a good run in Urria, but I know where we were losing a bit of time. The ruts were quite big at the beginning and I was fighting with the car too much,” explained Latvala.
Tänak felt the conditions were more difficult than this morning from his position as first in the start order, while Lappi rued a botched gearchange in his Citroën C3 in the final junction of Urria.
Perhaps the happiest of the quartet was Meeke, the Briton starting his 100th WRC round. “That was enjoyable, in the best car on the best roads. If I had to turn left now and go home I’d be happy. The pleasure of driving on these roads is unbelievable,” he said.
Craig Breen was best of the rest in fifth, 10.3sec off the lead in his Hyundai i20. The Irishman was slowed in Moksi when a damaged clip allowed his car’s bonnet to come loose and obscure his view.
Fastest time for Andreas Mikkelsen in Urria promoted the Norwegian into sixth in his i20. He had 1.5sec in hand over Sébastien Ogier, whose fire extinguisher went off inside his C3 in the previous test.
After SS11: Latvala edges into narrow lead
Jari-Matti Latvala held a slender Neste Rally Finland lead on Friday night after a remarkable opening leg which ended with the top four drivers blanketed by just 2.6sec.
Home hero Latvala won six of the day’s 10 speed tests in forests around Jyväskylä, but such was the speed of Finland’s fast and furious Friday that the Toyota Yaris driver never broke free of the chasing pack.
Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Kris Meeke ended 1.2sec behind the Finn. Esapekka Lappi, driving a Citroën C3, showed a welcome return to form to hold third, a similar margin behind and two-tenths ahead of FIA World Rally Championship leader Ott Tänak.
Despite starting first on the slippery gravel tracks, Tänak overcame a lack of grip to lead throughout the morning, although the Estonian’s advantage never rose above 5.4sec. His cause was aided by left-sided punctures for both Latvala and Meeke.
As the tracks became rutted and even more challenging this afternoon, Tänak yielded his advantage to Latvala, who had the best start position of the quartet. The battle was so close that at one point Latvala led by just six-tenths, with the three chasers tied in second!
The omens are good for Latvala. In 15 out of the last 16 years, Friday night’s leader has gone on to win.
“There were couple of stages where I was a little bit down but generally I was able to keep the performance. When you are fighting all the time you have big pressure, and being able to keep fighting is the main thing. Tomorrow will be a big battle,” he said.
Best of the rest was Craig Breen, the Irishman hugely impressive on his first appearance in a Hyundai i20 in the WRC. He delivered a string of second fastest times, but lost valuable seconds this afternoon when his car’s bonnet came loose and obscured his visibility.
He ended 14.2sec from the lead and 0.4sec ahead of team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen, who also won a stage. Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was seventh in a C3, the Frenchman only 0.7sec adrift but admitting he could not match the pace of title rival Tänak.
Thierry Neuville, the third of the title tussling trio, was eighth. The Belgian’s pre-event test was held in the rain and his original rally set-up proved too soft. He made changes at mid-leg service but ended more than half a minute off the lead.
Teemu Suninen was a dejected ninth, the Finn never recovering after breaking his Ford Fiesta’s front splitter early on and haemorraghing up to 0.3sec per kilometre due to a lack of aero. M-Sport Ford team-mate Gus Greensmith was 10th.
Saturday comprises almost 133km of relentless action, spanning more than 14 hours on roads around Jämsa. A loop of four tests is driven morning and afternoon, featuring some of the fastest and most spectacular action of the rally.
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