Wednesday | 03 Aug 2016

Finland driver report: part 1

We take a look at how the leading drivers fared on Neste Rally Finland's rollercoaster stages in the first part of our summary.

Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20) Result: 4th
Twelve months ago, Neuville was fourth in Finland and secured Hyundai its best result there to date. The same result this time certainly wasn't a bad one, but for Neuville this was a deeply unsatisfying rally. His biggest problem was a lack of traction, especially at the rear, and especially on the morning loops when the gravel stages were at their most slippery. He experimented with numerous set-up changes without finding much improvement. He just could not get the car to go any faster. Spurred on by the chance of a podium, he kept up his attack on Sunday to claim two stage wins including the Power Stage, but came up 4.6sec short of third.

Eric Camilli (Ford Fiesta RS) Result: Retired
This was the Frenchman's second only attempt at Rally Finland, and for a driver who cut his teeth in the French tarmac championship, Finland's ultra-fast gravel remained alien territory. To make matters worse, he also had to get his head around the jump in performance from an R5 car in 2015 to a World Rally Car. Shocked early on by just how fast the roads were, Camilli felt his pace notes were too cautious and adjusted them to take everything up a notch. One note he shouldn't have changed, however, was the approach to a left-hander in Päijälä (SS14). He and his co-driver were very lucky to walk away unscathed from the massive crash that followed.

Mads Østberg (Ford Fiesta RS) Result: 6th
With 10 previous starts under his belt Mads was one of the more experienced competitors in Finland, but he couldn't translate that knowledge into rally-leading pace. With no answer to the early speed of his fellow Fiesta RS driver Ott Tänak, Ostberg was again left wondering why stages that felt good to drive didn't yield better times. His pace picked up on Saturday and Sunday when the battle for the final podium place gave him extra motivation. The highlight was a stage win on SS16 on the way to sixth overall.

Kevin Abbring (Hyundai i20) Result: 9th
Parachuted in at the last minute to replace the injured Dani Sordo, Hyundai test driver Abbring had a lot on his plate in Finland. It was his first rally in the 2016-spec i20 WRC and his first time in a World Rally Car on the fastest roads in the championship (his last outing, in 2009, had been in a front-wheel drive Renault Clio). While acknowledging the scale of his challenge - saying in some ways it was the worst gift to receive - Abbring did a good job of making the most of the opportunity to learn. Hampered by a transmission problem on Saturday, he achieved his pre-rally objective of a top-ten finish.

Craig Breen (DS 3) Result: 3rd
Only a handful of days after crashing his DS 3 WRC at the pre-event test, Breen completed the transition from zero to hero with a dream podium finish and the best result of his young career. The opening day netted a third fastest and second fastest stage time to leave him fifth and within ten seconds of a place on the podium. That became fourth after a flying run though Ouninpohja and then third when Mikkelsen went off. Breen kept his nerve despite enormous pressure from the chasing pack, sealing a career first WRC stage win on the way to his first trip to the podium in only his fifth appearance in a World Rally Car. Emotional stuff.

Jari-Matti Latvala (VW Polo R) Result: 2nd
It's not often that Volkswagen settles for second best, but that's what Latvala had to do here. A shredded tyre on SS4 wasn't a great start for the man chasing a hat-trick of Finland wins, and when he passed Ogier's Polo in a ditch soon afterwards, Latvala questioned whether his objective might change from victory push to points gathering. That decision was made after Meeke's emphatic fastest time through Ouninpohja put him more than 30 seconds ahead. From then on, this was all about keeping out of trouble and banking the points for VW’s manufacturers’ championship charge.

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