Ott Tänak holds a slim 1.1 second advantage over Mads Ostberg after Friday morning’s loop of Rally Finland stages. The Estonian has held off the charging Norwegian for all but one of the stages when his rival briefly took the lead with fastest time in SS4.
Behind them, local hero Jari-Matti Latvala is third while the Championship’s main contenders Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville are down in seventh and 10th respectively, both struggling with road position and the Belgian dropping yet more time with a mistake.
The eighth round of the FIA World Rally Championship got underway last night with a short street stage in the centre of Jyväskylä, where Tänak initially laid down his intent. Today, the crews headed into the forests, however, for two loops of four stages before returning to the city for a second blast around the street stage.
Tänak, third on the road and not in the best position on the dry gravel roads, set the pace from the outset though, capitalizing while some of his rivals appeared “to be sleeping this morning.” The Toyota driver won two of the four stages, only briefly losing his lead to Ostberg. He regained his advantage in the final stage of the loop to take a narrow but confidence-boosting 1.1 second advantage into the repeated afternoon stages.
Ostberg lost some time in the early morning stages, not prepared to risk his C3 WRC over some of the deep ruts, but a maximum attack in SS4 saw the Norwegian claim fastest time and the rally lead for Citroen. A couple of mistakes in the final stage dropped him back but the Norwegian is firmly demonstrating that upgrades to the French marque’s car are paying dividends.
Latvala, eighth in last night’s street stage, immediately moved into fourth this morning, despite lacking some confidence in the high-speed sections, but has upped the pace and declared the fight to be on as he returned to the mid-leg service just 10.8 seconds off teammate Tänak.
Hayden Paddon currently flies the flag for Hyundai in fourth position, despite feeling some of his new pace notes were a bit slow in places. Even so, the Kiwi has been consistently on the pace all morning with no unnecessary risks. Just four seconds down on Latvala, and with Teemu Suninen only 1.6 seconds adrift in fifth, Paddon will be intent on at least maintaining position after team-mates Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen both hit problems.
Neuville, second last night, has suffered the worst running first on the road but a spin in the final stage dropped him further back down the field into a disappointing 10th overall, over a minute off the lead. More significantly, he is trailing championship rival Ogier by over 30 seconds, the Frenchman seventh. Mikkelsen felt there was more work needed on the car for the nature of the Finnish roads, but the Norwegian misheard a pace note, then lost the back end and ended up stuck in a ditch, the i20 Coupe WRC on its side. He was lucky to escape any serious damage, but a broken windscreen affected visibility and he lost nearly four minutes and is down in 30th position.
Elfyn Evans is sixth, just ahead of teammate Ogier, and Esapekka Lappi – last year’s winner – is eighth. The young Finn stalled the Yaris WRC under braking in the first stage and is struggling for grip and resigned to being unable to repeat his momentous victory of 2017. After picking up a puncture in the first stage, Craig Breen is ninth ahead of Neuville.
In the FIA WRC 2 Championship, Kalle Rovanperä is leading in the Skoda Fabia R5. The youngster, in his first competitive outing on home soil, won three of the four stages and heads fellow countryman Eerik Pietarinen by 14.3 seconds.
Ole Christian Veiby, who was second, dropped time in the final stage of the loop and is now third, just 1.3 seconds further behind. The FIA Junior and WRC 3 Championships are being led by Emil Bergkvist, the Swede 13.8 seconds ahead of Ken Torn.