Wednesday | 22 Jul 2015

Rally Rewind: Finland 2014

Finland's 2014 WRC counter was a nail-biter, with local hero Jari-Matti Latvala fending off world champion Sébastien Ogier on home turf before a penultimate day drama threatened to undo all his good work...

Thursday 31 July
Last year's rally was run over four days, with four stages on Thursday afternoon. Having seen the rally won by French drivers in the previous three years, Latvala was quick off the mark and delighted his home fans by setting fastest time on three of the four stages, to build a 4.5sec lead over his VW team-mate Ogier. Kris Meeke held third, the DS 3 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 was already 26.4sec from the lead. Juho Hänninen was a close fifth, Andreas Mikkelsen sixth and Mads Ostberg, unhappy with the handling of his DS 3, seventh. The only major retirement was Jarkko Nikara who crashed his Fiesta RS heavily in the penultimate stage.

Meeke moved up to second place on Friday

Friday 1 August
A blistering afternoon performance from Latvala enabled him to stretch his advantage at the head of the leaderboard. He added less than four seconds to his lead during the morning’s four stages. But a hat-trick of stage wins in the afternoon allowed him to build a 19.7sec advantage. Latvala admitted to taking really big risks, and he was lucky to continue after dropping his car into a ditch early in the day. The ultra-fast gravel roads suited Meeke, who moved his DS 3 into second, 1.6sec ahead of stage opener Ogier who took on an unwilling role as sweeper as the afternoon sun dried the roads. Mikkelsen, Hirvonen and Østberg fought hard behind the leading trio. Hirvonen held the initiative for most of the day until a spin allowed Østberg, increasingly confident after set-up changes, to move ahead. But Mikkelsen leapfrogged them both to hold a 1.2sec advantage over Ostberg with Hirvonen a further 1.9sec adrift. Hayden Paddon showed good pace with an oil-thirsty Hyundai i20 to hold seventh while Elfyn Evans was eighth. Drivers in trouble included Hänninen, who held fourth until he punctured and later rolled in SS6, Robert Kubica, who crashed his Fiesta RS in the opening test damaging its suspension and Martin Prokop, who crashed his similar car in the afternoon. Neuville retired after swiping the rear of his Hyundai against the scenery in the opening stage, damaging the roll cage.

Saturday 2 August
A defiant Latvala ended the penultimate leg with a slender 3.4sec lead over Ogier following a dramatic finale to the day. Five wins from six stages enabled Latvala to stretch his lead from 19.7sec to a comfortable 31.1sec. But the Finn hit a hole in the road in the rutted second pass through Jukojärvi (SS20) and broke a brake caliper on his Polo R. He drove the final three tests with just three brakes and Ogier, who earlier indicated it would be ‘stupid’ to try to catch Latvala, seized his chance. He was fastest through the final four stages to set up a thrilling sprint to the finish on Sunday. Meeke refused to be drawn into a battle with Ogier and ended 29.0sec behind after a troublefree day in his DS3. Mikkelsen held fourth, despite losing his brakes on the final stage - the Norwegian seeing off challenges from Østberg and Hirvonen behind. In the afternoon however Østberg was out of the fight - withdrawn at the mid-leg service when FIA scrutineers discovered damage to his roll cage following an impact with a stone. Paddon was sixth, holding off his Hyundai team-mate Hänninen.

Sunday 3 August
Finland celebrated as Latvala kept his nerve over the two passes of Ruuhimäki to claim a thrilling first home victory at the country’s WRC round for four years (see below). He held off a determined charge from Ogier to win by 3.6sec. "I was so close to losing the victory but I fought back. I was nervous today but managed to hold it together," said Latvala. Ogier meanwhile gained maximum bonus points by winning the Power Stage. Meeke secured third, with Mikkelsen fourth, more than a minute adrift and Hirvonen fifth. Power steering problems deprived Paddon of sixth. He slipped behind both Hänninen, who bounced back from his second day roll, and Evans. Henning Solberg and Karl Kruuda completed the leaderboard.

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