Finland countdown: the stages
We look at the battleground for Neste Oil Rally Finland
Thursday 1 August: Thierry Neuville was in front after a thrilling opening day that featured six stages and multiple lead changes. The Belgian, driving a Ford Fiesta RS, won two stages and kept out of trouble in rough and slippery conditions to end the day 5.2sec clear of championship leader Sebastien Ogier. Ogier and his VW team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala were pace-setters on the opening test, but Latvala wrecked his Polo R’s suspension on a rock on the second and Ogier backed-off. A fastest time for Neuville on SS2 moved him into the joint lead with Citroen ace Mikko Hirvonen, and he remained tied at the top after SS3 (with Ogier) and a badly rutted SS4 (with Hirvonen again) before finally pulling clear on SS5, helped by a sharp rain shower that hampered Hirvonen’s progress and enabled Ford Fiesta RS driver Mads Ostberg to snatch third.
Friday 2 August: After Thursday’s shorter sprints, the action shifted to longer, classic Finland stages and Sebastien Ogier stretched ahead to end the day with a lead of 38 seconds. Neuville lost the lead on the day’s opener, but remained in touch with Ogier until a puncture cost him 30sec. Things were tight at the top all morning, with Ogier trading times with Neuville, Hirvonen and Ostberg, so that just 11.4 seconds covered the top four at the midpoint service. But Ogier upped his pace on the rutted surface of the repeated stages, winning all of them while one-by-one his rivals hit trouble. Ostberg shattered his Fiesta’s front left wheel on a rock and dropped 45 seconds, while Hirvonen clipped a bank and damaged his Citroen’s suspension.
Saturday 3 August: Ogier kept his rapid pace to win by 36.6sec and become only the fifth non-Nordic driver to triumph in Finland. He had the luxury of measuring his pace through final leg, but still produced the necessary speed to smash the record for Ouninpohja at an average of more than 130kph. Neuville took the runner-up spot for the second consecutive rally, the Belgian finishing 21.0sec ahead of fellow Fiesta RS driver Ostberg after an enthralling duel that was only decided in the penultimate stage when Ostberg went off the road avoiding a rock. Hirvonen was fourth, 1min 21.6sec behind Ogier. Citroen’s stand-in driver Kris Meeke was on course for fifth but rolled out in the penultimate test. There was also late disappointment for Jarkko Nikara, who retired from sixth with a broken shock absorber. All that allowed Citroen’s Dani Sordo to claim a distant fifth.