Kris Meeke looks set to deny local hero Jari-Matti Latvala a third consecutive win at Neste Rally Finland after an outstanding performance in Saturday’s penultimate leg.
The Northern Irishman [above] more than doubled his lead over Finn Latvala to 41.0sec, winning four of the eight super-fast forest speed tests in Citroën’s DS 3 and putting himself in sight of becoming the first British driver to win a rally traditionally dominated by Nordic pilots.
Restarting with an 18.1sec advantage, Meeke stamped his authority on the event with a stunning early-morning drive through the awesome Ouninpohja stage. The 33km challenge features more than 70 flat out jumps and is regarded as the sport’s biggest test of courage.
Meeke defeated Latvala by more than 13sec, leaving the home driver deflated. Latvala admitted Meeke’s Ouninpohja drive focused his mind on preserving second place in his Volkswagen Polo R rather than risking all in trying to hunt down the leader.
To prove his performance was no fluke, Meeke won the repeat pass through the test this afternoon as he further increased his lead.
“Today has been exceptional. Yesterday was one of the best days I’ve had in a rally car and today has surpassed that. I don’t know where I go from here! We have a job to do tomorrow – play it safe and try to bring it home,” said Meeke.
Latvala had a troublefree day to head Craig Breen by 64.4sec, the Irishman climbing from fifth in a DS 3 and on the verge of a maiden WRC podium.
Five drivers entertained the huge crowds in a thrilling battle for fourth. Ott Tänak headed the quintet in a remarkably topsy-turvy day. He banished memories of yesterday’s problems to rocket from eighth to fifth, only for a puncture to put him back where he started. However, a determined afternoon enabled the Estonian to regain fourth in his Ford Fiesta RS.
He finished 4.4sec ahead of Thierry Neuville, the Belgian still not totally satisfied with the handling of his Hyundai i20. Team-mate Hayden Paddon was 2.7sec further back, the Kiwi happier with his car’s balance but at a loss to understand his lack of pace.
Mads Østberg shared a stage win en route to seventh in his Fiesta RS, 2.4sec behind Paddon. Andreas Mikkelsen was the big loser, sliding from third to eighth in his Polo R as he struggled for traction on the loose gravel from first in the running order. WRC 2 leader Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen completed the leaderboard.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier won two stages and shared a fastest time with Østberg after brake problems delayed him this morning, while Lorenzo Bertelli and Eric Camilli [below] both retired after rolling heavily.
Sunday’s final leg is a sprint. After a 07.00 start, drivers face two identical loops of two stages south of Jyväskylä covering 33.96km. There is no service after the start and the final Oittila test forms the live TV Power Stage, with bonus points for the fastest three drivers.
Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Neste Rally Finland.