Title fight intensifies
The closest FIA World Rally Championship fight since 2009 increases in intensity this week on Finland’s super-fast roller coaster roads.
With five rounds remaining, just 11 points separate four-time champion Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville, who has recovered from a disastrous start which left him 38 points adrift after three events.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Ott Tänak are the outsiders in third and fourth. They require a major loss of form from the duo ahead in what is the most enthralling battle since Sébastien Loeb pipped Mikko Hirvonen by a point to win his sixth crown eight years ago.
Neste Rally Finland (27 - 30 July) is the most eagerly-awaited encounter of the season. Last year’s fixture, affectionately known to locals as the ‘Finnish Grand Prix’ was won at a record average speed of 126.62kph.
Ogier is one of the few non-Nordic drivers to win in Finland - in 2013. He trails Neuville in 2017 victories by three to two and his preparations were spoiled by a heavy crash when testing his Ford Fiesta WRC last week.
“We had a two-day test and, although it was cut short and I’m sorry for my team-mates who were unable to continue, the car felt fantastic,” said the undaunted Frenchman.
“The Finns certainly know how to deliver a good rally and these gravel roads are tailor-made for rallying.
“It’s fast – really fast – and the big jumps and high grip levels offer an incredible sense of speed that every driver looks forward to. At that pace, you’re fighting for tenths of a second and I’m expecting a very close battle.”
Neuville is on a run of six consecutive podiums in his Hyundai i20 Coupe, including victory in Poland earlier this month which ignited the head-to-head duel.
“We hope it can be a real catalyst for further success moving towards the end of the season,” said the Belgian, who won a warm-up rally in Finland two weeks ago.
“The car is looking very strong and with two wins on gravel already this season it has shown how competitive we can be. We’re confident we can continue to challenge for the championship.
“We know Finland can be a tricky event because the margin of error is minimal due to the high speeds and complexities of the roads,” he added.
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