Leustu is 700 metres shorter than last year but still offers roads of varying character. The narrow section at the start is a potential puncture trap but after 3.5km of rougher than average gravel, the test returns to more traditional Finnish roads. The final 500 metres are new, passing under a railway line en route to the finish.
How the action unfolded:
The duel for second place between Qatar M-Sport team-mates Mads Ostberg and Thierry Neuville intensified as the Belgian upped his pace in a bid to overhaul his Norwegian rival.
Having lost second to Ostberg in the opening Surkee test after overshooting a junction in his Ford Fiesta RS, Neuville retaliated with fastest time here and vowed to continue fighting his colleague.
Neuville (left above) was quickest by 0.9sec from Ostberg, to narrow the gap to 2.2sec, despite a close escape over a crest early in the stage.
“I made a small mistake. At a straight line over a jump the car went sideways. I don’t know why it happened, but I had to come off the throttle and we lost time. It’s close with Mads and I think we should continue the fight,” he said.
Ostberg was relaxed but admitted conditions were tricky. “It’s drying but in places it’s quite wet and slippery so it’s hard to find the perfect rhythm,” he explained.
Leader Sebastien Ogier was third in his Volkswagen Polo R, 2.1sec behind Neuville and his advantage is now 32.3sec. “We wake up slowly!” joked the Frenchman.
Mikko Hirvonen and Andreas Mikkelsen shared fourth fastest, 3.6sec off the pace. With a 25sec gap to Neuville ahead, Hirvonen was realistic about his ambitions. “The boys are having a big fight at the front. By driving alone we’re not catching so much, but we will try,” said the Citroen DS3 pilot.
Mikkelsen made small changes to the damper settings before the test in his Polo R and felt more comfortable, although he feared he may have punctured the front left tyre shortly before the finish.
Also realistic was Kris Meeke, who was 11th fastest and slipped further behind team-mate Hirvonen in fifth. “I’m taking it quite steady. There’s no way I’m going to try to battle Mikko today,” he confirmed.
And so to the mighty Ouninpohja stage.....