Wednesday | 06 Aug 2014

Rally Finland driver report: part 1

We review the major players from last weekend’s Neste Oil Rally Finland in the first of a two-part analysis.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen Polo R)                                                           Driving and mental approach came together in perfect harmony as Latvala delivered an immense performance. His speed left Seb Ogier flailing and when a pothole and the resulting broken brake caliper threatened to allow the Frenchman through for an unlikely win, Latvala showed determination and bottle to hold him off. After three years with little to cheer, the Finnish fans were desperate for home success and Latvala gave them that. His most important win to date.

Kris Meeke (Citroen DS3) 
The best drive of his career. The Northern Irishman was the only man who came anywhere near matching VW pair Latvala and Ogier. It was his third podium of the season, but this one came purely as a result of his own outright pace. Meeke said from the outset this year that the second half of the season would bring the best from him. This was a mighty impressive way to reinforce that argument.

Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Fiesta RS)
A disappointing weekend from the former Rally Finland winner. Hirvonen never had the speed to trouble the pacesetters. At times he admitted he was missing that vital edge, at others he insisted he could extract no more speed from the facelifted Fiesta RS. Mikko’s season needed a boost with a strong result here, but fifth isn’t going to reignite the competitive fires for the rest of the campaign.

Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20) 
Packing away his overalls on Friday lunchtime after only eight stages wasn’t what the Belgian had in mind after his stellar drive 12 months previously. He slid wide on the day’s opening stage and wiped away the rear wing of his i20. All quite innocuous and while he knew he would struggle for the rest of the morning with no aero, he didn’t foresee the rally-ending blow of a damaged roll cage until he arrived in service.

Andreas Mikkelsen (Volkswagen Polo R)
Steady rather than spectacular drive from the Norwegian. Kept out of trouble and once he came out on top of his battle with Mads Østberg and Mikko Hirvonen, fourth was always his. It’s probably a mark of the progress he has made this season that many expected him to fight for a podium, but Mikkelsen remains firmly on course for third in the drivers’ standings.

Henning Solberg (Ford Fiesta RS)
Crept onto the bottom end of the leaderboard but a string of punctures handicapped the popular Norwegian. With no opportunity for a proper pre-event test, Solberg always starts rallies on the back foot but that never dims his enthusiasm. We’re unlikely to see him in the WRC again until October’s Rallye de France, and he’ll be missed.

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