Rally Finland, saturday: Tänak speeds to the front

Estonian leads after furious three-way fight

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By Olivier Ferret

3 August 2019 - 19:09
Rally Finland, saturday: Tänak (...)

SS12/13: Latvala tops tight scrap

Just six-tenths of a second covered the leading three drivers as Jari-Matti Latvala lost and then regained the lead of Neste Rally Finland in a furious opening to the second leg on Saturday morning.

Ott Tänak vaulted from an overnight fourth into first as the leading pack was reshuffled in the Pihlajakoski speed test. The Toyota Yaris driver, with a better start position today after opening the slippery gravel roads yesterday, won the test to lead Latvala by 0.5sec.

His team-mate Latvala responded in Päijälä to move back to the front by 0.2sec. Kris Meeke, driving the third Yaris, won that stage to sit just 0.6sec down on Latvala after a breathless opening to the fastest day of the WRC’s fastest rally.

“In the first stage I had a moment on a right corner over a crest,” said Latvala. “We jumped and landed in a ditch so after that I had to be a bit more careful. We had a good run in the next one. It’s an incredible fight at the moment.”

Tänak felt the revised Pihlajakoski was more tricky than it appeared during the pre-event recce, but both the Estonian and Meeke were satisfied with their start to the longest day of the four-day event.

Esapekka Lappi began to be distanced by the leading trio in his Citroën C3. The Finn was second in Pihlajakoski but ended Päijälä 6.5sec off the lead in fourth.

“It’s the same pace as yesterday but Mr Tanak is having a good road position now. I was absolutely on the limit and we have no chance. I knew before the rally that if I needed to fight with him I had no chance. That’s how it is, but I try to fight with the other Toyotas,” he said.

Hyundai i20 team-mates Craig Breen and Andreas Mikkelsen traded positions in each test, the Irishman eventually emerging 1.4sec to the good, despite slowing in Pihlajakoski for an apparent puncture.

“I had an alarm for zero tyre pressure on the dash. I was braking and hesitating on all the fast stuff wondering if I had a puncture or not,” said the Irishman.

Sébastien Ogier was fighting illness to lie 0.8sec behind in his Citroën C3. “I was quite sick the whole night and I am struggling to wake up now, so I have to force myself. I didn’t really sleep and emptied myself all night if you must know the details!” he said.

SS14/15: Tänak clear after dramas

Ott Tänak ended a dramatic Saturday morning with a comfortable Neste Rally Finland lead after a rogue rock dealt heartbreaking blows to team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke.

The Estonian headed Latvala by 13.8sec as the Toyota Yaris pair returned to service in Jyväskylä, with Esapekka Lappi a further 2.3sec behind in his Citroën C3.

But the story was all about the Kakaristo speed test where leader Latvala punctured his rear left tyre and Meeke retired with broken rear left suspension after both struck the same large rock shortly before the midpoint.

Latvala, carrying a slender two-tenths lead, was 1.5sec faster than Tänak at the opening split before disaster struck.

“It happened on a small road at a right corner,” he said. “There was last year concrete so I had my note. They had removed the concrete so I made my note a bit faster and that was my mistake. I went a little bit into the ditch but there was a stone the size of a head there.”

Just two minutes previously Meeke parked his Yaris, leaving Toyota Gazoo Racing’s hopes of a dream 1-2-3 finish in tatters.

Tänak won the stage and was second in the following Leustu, a tenth behind a rejuvenated Latvala, and admitted his frantic pace had eased a fraction.

“It’s maybe not as flat out as before. It was quite a tricky morning, some new sections which were not so easy to understand. We had to attack quite a lot. I thought it would be more controlled but the level was very high and the others were pushing us to the limit,” he said.

Lappi posted top three times in both stages and while it was all change at the front, the battle behind him for the mid-order places was as fast and furious as the lead fight had been.

Andreas Mikkelsen, Sébastien Ogier and Craig Breen traded places all morning in an enthralling scrap for fourth.

Despite a stall under braking, Mikkelsen headed the trio in his Hyundai i20, 1.5sec ahead of an unwell Ogier, whose plan for service focused around catching up on some sleep. Breen was eight-tenths behind after set-up changes improved the rear of his i20.

Team-mate Thierry Neuville was seventh, and resigned to the fact that he could not catch those ahead with less than ideal grip from third in the start order. Teemu Suninen, Gus Greensmith and WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä completed the leaderboard.

SS16/17: Lappi demotes Latvala

Esapekka Lappi relegated fellow Finn Jari-Matti Latvala from second place during a strong start to the afternoon’s special stages from the Citroën C3 pilot.

Lappi won the heavily rutted Pihlajakoski speed test by 2.1sec to regain the position he briefly held yesterday.

He followed up with second fastest in the roller coaster, but smoother, Päijälä to stretch the gap over the Toyota Yaris driver to 6.0sec with two more tests remaining today.

“That’s very positive that we can try to fight against the Toyotas,” said Lappi, who earned Latvala’s praise.

“He has found something special and is going really well at the moment. I maybe started to be a bit too cautious, but it is what it is. I took the first one steadily, we were a little afraid of the rocks. I need to think about the manufacturer points,” he explained.

Lappi’s pace moved him to within 14.4sec of leader Ott Tänak, who was also ultra-careful in Pihlajakoski. “It was very rough, so we were really careful not to damage any wheels or tyres,” said the Estonian.

Also on the move was world champion Sébastien Ogier. The unwell Frenchman felt slightly better than this morning and moved ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen.

The C3 pilot had 2.8sec in hand over Mikkelsen’s i20, with Craig Breen waiting to pounce a further 1.9sec back.

After SS19: Tänak speeds to the front

Ott Tänak led Neste Rally Finland on Saturday night after a rogue rock ruined an incredible three-way fight for supremacy at the FIA World Rally Championship’s fastest round.

The series leader completed the penultimate leg of the four-day event with a 16.4sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris over Esapekka Lappi. Tänak’s team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, trailed the Citroën C3 driver by 12.4sec in third.

Finland’s fast and furious Friday turned into a super speed Saturday as just six-tenths of a second blanketed leader Latvala, Tänak and the third Yaris of Kris Meeke this morning as Toyota Gazoo Racing controlled this ninth round of the season.

It all went wrong in the blisteringly fast Kakaristo special stage where Latvala punctured his rear left tyre and Meeke retired with broken rear left suspension after both struck the same rock shortly before the midpoint.

“It happened on a small road at a right corner,” said Latvala. “There was concrete there last year so I had my note.

“They had removed the concrete so I made my note a bit faster and that was my mistake. I went a little bit into the ditch but there was a stone the size of a head there.”

Finn Latvala, who had lost and then regained his overnight lead from Tänak over the previous two tests, dropped more than 14sec. The Estonian’s advantage was sufficient to be able to moderate his pace over the afternoon’s heavily rutted sections.

“It’s been a good clean day for us. It started with quite a big push but this afternoon has been a clean run. It’s nice to have some breathing space. Yesterday and this morning the time gaps were all 0.something,” said Tänak, who won three stages.

Lappi, who appeared to be dropping away from the lead fight this morning, upped his speed this afternoon. He won two tests to overhaul Latvala for second, his rival aware he could not afford further mistakes in Toyota’s quest for the manufacturers’ title.

While one battle ended, the fight for fourth intensified. Andreas Mikkelsen, Hyundai i20 team-mate Craig Breen and champion Sébastien Ogier, who had been up all night with sickness, swapped places on virtually every stage.

Each enjoyed a spell at the head of the trio but as the rally returned to Jyväskylä after almost 133km of relentless action, Mikkelsen headed Ogier by 2.6sec, with Breen 6.0sec back.

Title challenger Thierry Neuville failed to make up ground after yesterday’s disappointing start. He ended seventh, ahead of M-Sport Ford duo Teemu Suninen, Gus Greensmith and WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä.

Two runs of Laukaa (11.75km) and the big jumps of Ruuhimäki (11.12km) decide the rally on Sunday over 45.74km. The second pass of Ruuhimäki forms the Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest five drivers.

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