Thursday | 31 Jul 2014

Latvala sets early pace in Finland

Jari-Matti Latvala controlled Thursday’s (31 July) short opening leg of Neste Oil Rally Finland to build a 4.5sec overnight lead.

The Finn delighted his home fans by setting fastest time on three of the four special stages in a Volkswagen Polo R to head team-mate and FIA World Rally Championship leader Sébastien Ogier.

Afternoon rain provided early starters Latvala and Ogier with the best of the grip, the soft gravel road surface deteriorating with the passage of more cars.

Juho Hänninen - fifth for the Finn

Latvala took full advantage to win the first two stages and share fastest time with Ogier in the next. The Frenchman ended the day by taking the honours in the spectacular Jyväskylä street test.

Latvala’s only drama was on the last corner of the day when he ripped the front right wing from his Polo R. “There was a chicane with a straw bale on the inside. I cut it too much and hit the bale, but it was nothing too serious,” said 29-year-old Latvala.

Kris Meeke is third, the Citroen DS3 pilot 9.2sec behind Latvala and the only other driver in contact with the leading duo. Mikko Hirvonen snatched fourth in his Ford Fiesta RS on the final stage, but he is already 26.4sec from the lead.

Juho Hänninen initially held fourth but the Finn lost 15sec in the badly rutted penultimate test and then dropped behind Hirvonen in the final stage. The gap between them is only 0.7sec, and the Polo R of Andreas Mikkelsen rounds off the top six.

Mads Ostberg - a frustrated seventh overnight

Seventh is Mads Ostberg, but the Norwegian was unhappy with the handling of his DS3. He heads Thierry Neuville, the Belgian lacking confidence with his pace notes which proved too slow for the ultra-fast forest roads.

Robert Kubica and Hayden Paddon complete the top 10 after Henning Solberg slipped off the leaderboard when he punctured a front left tyre in the penultimate Lankamaa stage. Craig Breen suffered a similar problem in the test.

The only major retirement was Jarkko Nikara who crashed his Fiesta RS heavily in the penultimate stage.

Drivers restart tomorrow at 07.30 for two identical loops of four stages south-west of Jyväskylä, before a second pass through the city centre Harju street stage. More than half the 134.47km stage distance will be new. It’s a long day with drivers reaching the overnight halt at 21.45.

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