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 awesome roller-coaster Ouninpohja stage, regarded as the sport’s ultimate test of skill and bravery, lies just around the corner and the dueling Thierry Neuville and Mads Ostberg will go into it separated by one-tenth of a second!
Neuville was fastest in Leustu by 1.9sec from Ostberg and the thousands of spectators packed into the upcoming 33.01km test will be in for a treat as the Ford Fiesta RS duo fight it out over the wide and dauntingly fast roads.
Both emerged from Leustu with their concerns.
Ostberg kicked off: “We had a half-spin at a junction. I don’t know what happened but there was no power in the throttle. I almost spun and tried to dip the clutch many times before the power came back again,” he said.
Neuville countered: “It’s very rough so we have to be careful in places. I could have been faster but I didn’t want to take risks. We must do well in Ouninpohja but I have a bit more tyre wear due to a different differential, so I’m struggling a bit.”
Leader Sebastien Ogier was third in his Volkswagen Polo R, the Frenchman gearing himself up for another thrill-a-second ride through Ouninpohja. “I will try to drive to a good rhythm there because that’s the best way to have fun. No problems in here, but there are some sections that are quite rough,” he said.
That’s a view Mikko Hirvonen would certainly subscribe to. The Finn was ninth fastest but counted himself lucky not to be lying upside down in his Citroen DS3.
“We nearly rolled,” he said. “It’s so bumpy and rutted. I was following the line in a rut and hit a big hole. The car just jumped out and onto two wheels…..”
Evgeny Novikov and Jari-Matti Latvala were fourth and fifth respectively, just ahead of the Polo R of Andreas Mikkelsen, who made minor changes to his pace notes in the test.
Kris Meeke, fifth overall in his DS3, was down in 11th after a half spin at the final junction. Jarkko Nikara, one place behind in his Mini John Cooper Works, was 12th fastest after damaging his car’s front left wheel against a rock.