Latvala soars, Ogier out early in Finland

2017-07-28 16:32:50

Finns have reigned supreme during the morning loop of Rally Finland stages and Jari-Matti Latvala heads a one-two for Toyota after a total of seven stages and 85 competitive kilometers. The local hero is however in the thick of a fight with his young teammate Esapekka Lappi after a dramatic string of stages that has seen championship leader Sebastien Ogier retire, as well as Hyundai's Hayden Paddon.

Rally Finland got underway last night with the opening Harju street stage, where Ott Tanak set the early pace. Out in the forests today, however, Finns have claimed victory on each of the six stages to stake their claim on their home event.

Latvala – who is chasing a fourth home win to equal the tally set by his Toyota team boss Tommi Makinen – had a great morning although only set one fastest time on his way to a 1.6-second advantage at the mid-leg service. Teammate Lappi has once again been a sensation in only his fourth event in the Yaris WRC (below, McKlein/LAT photo). After being too cautious in today's opener, the youngster immediately upped the pace and four consecutive stage wins, despite a couple of small errors, now put him firmly in contention.

Lappi09FIN17cm133The closeness of competition at the head of the field earlier in the morning meant it was difficult for crews to make an impact, but as rain fell in the final stage of the loop Mads Ostberg was able to capitalize and overhauled both Craig Breen and Teemu Suninen for the provisional third position. The Norwegian has struggled to find a good rhythm at times but heads a tight fight ahead of five of his rivals.

Breen, who ran has high as third, dropped to fourth in the last stage. He had a heavy landing in SS4 that left him with a strange feeling at the front end of the C3 WRC but has nevertheless powered on and is just fourth tenths of a second behind Ostberg and a mere one-tenth ahead of rising star Teemu Suninen. In only his second event in the Fiesta WRC, Suninen is another sensation to have emerged from Finland and the WRC 2 Championship and with one stage win under his belt this morning is focused on continual improvement on the world stage.

Juho Hanninen is sixth for Toyota after a reasonably uneventful morning, but he too remains in contention just under 20 seconds adrift of team-mate Latvala. Citroen C3 WRC returnee Kris Meeke is struggling to find a good setup; the Northern Irish driver had a disrupted test due to bad weather and just cannot find the same groove that saw him claim a historic win on this event last year. Elfyn Evans never got a pre-event test after Ogier crashed the team's Fiesta, and the Welshman has battled understeer for most of the morning. He rounds off the top eight drivers who are split by 22.5 seconds.

Thierry Neuville, whose pre-event objective was to finish ahead of championship rival Ogier, is potentially on track to do that, but the Belgian has not enjoyed a great start. He was second in last night's street stage but dropped to 10th in this morning's first stage, the handling of the Hyundai proving difficult throughout the morning. However, with Ogier retiring after damaging the suspension, taking a wheel off and ending up in the trees, Neuville has been dealt a lucky strike and is now focused on climbing into the top five to slash the points deficit to the points leader.

Dani Sordo, in 10th, admitted to simply not being fast enough, and early leader Tanak has dropped down the order to 11th. The Estonian maintained his lead going into stage four but ran wide and broke a wheel, dropping him over 90 seconds. Paddon was another victim of the morning while running in an impressive third overall, the Kiwi driver out with broken suspension after hitting a rock.

The fight in the FIA WRC 2 class has seen three different drivers hold the advantage but after seven stages Jari Huttunen tops the category by 13.9 seconds. He heads Gus Greensmith and Pierre-Louis Loubet, the trio split by 15.1 seconds. The Junior WRC Championship is again proving to be a close battle between Nicolas Ciamin and Dennis Radstrom. The rivals have taken two and four stage wins, respectively, in their Fiesta R2 machinery.