This test follows the same route as last year. It starts on a wide road alongside Lake Skarsjon before turning onto a forest road. The final few kilometres pass through an extremely narrow tree-lined section. Generally it’s narrow with plenty of stones and tree stumps to trap the unwary. But it’s fast and full of crests - like Finland in the snow.
How the action unfolded:
For once it wasn’t Sebastien Ogier who was quickest through the forests as attention turned to the three-way battle for second place.
Jari-Matti Latvala, Sebastien Loeb and Mads Ostberg fought tooth and nail and at the end of it all just 0.3sec covered the trio at the top of the time sheet.
Latvala claimed the win in his Volkswagen Polo R, 0.2sec ahead of Loeb’s Citroen DS3 with Ostberg’s Fiesta RS another tenth of a second behind.
While Latvala and Ostberg were barely split by more than a blink of an eye all the way through the test, Loeb dropped time at the start but closed on his rivals as the stage progressed.
“I’ve started to get my confidence back,” said Latvala. “I was a little unhappy. I know the car is good but I don’t understand its limits and that’s why I’ve struggled sometimes. But it feels more natural now and I’m getting closer.”
Loeb explained his time loss. “At the start along the lake, I don’t know how to do that. But I pushed hard afterwards and closed the gap again,” said the nine-time world champion.
Ostberg was critical of himself at the finish. “I think I pushed too hard. I saw Latvala’s split times and wanted more, but ended up going in the wrong direction. I wanted too much and lost the line in too many places and ended up losing time. It wasn’t too clever,” said the 25-year-old Norwegian.
Evgeny Novikov brought his Fiesta RS to the finish fourth fastest, but what of rally leader Sebastien Ogier?
The Frenchman was fifth but was quick to assure everyone there were no problems inside the Polo R. He couldn’t find a rhythm and rather than force the pace, he took the cautious option, eased his speed and ended the test 5.0sec behind Latvala.
The stage had little effect on the leaderboard, although Loeb reduced the deficit to Ogier to 28.7sec.
Elsewhere, there was little drama with Mikko Hirvonen sixth fastest, ahead of Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville, the Belgian feeling the stage was rough for his set-up.
“I hit the sump guard so I slowed a little. We’ll look to change the ride height because it’s too rough for the car,” said Neuville.