As we prepare for Neste Rally Finland (28 - 31 July) here's a flashback to what happened on the WRC classic in 2015.
As usual the Finnish round delivered something special. This time it gave us a thrilling inter-team fight for the lead, a stirring dose of national pride and the highest average speed of any WRC rally so far.
Thursday 30 July / Friday 31 July
Sébastien Ogier got off to a winning start on Thursday's opening stage, but it was his Volkswagen team-mate, Jari-Matti Latvala, who had the edge on Friday when almost half the rally’s competitive distance - 159km - was crammed into nine stages all run without a service.
Ogier lost his overnight lead to DS 3 driver Kris Meeke in the opening stage but regained the advantage to end the morning 5.3sec clear. Latvala was hot on his heels and an incredible time through Ouninpohja put him ahead by 2.6sec while Meeke was 21.4sec further back.
Meeke’s hopes were hampered by a transmission issue but the Ulsterman remained close to the Volkswagen duo until a 10sec penalty for checking in late dropped him back. He led Citroën colleague Mads Østberg by 10.1sec while Thierry Neuville was fifth in a Hyundai i20.
Ott Tänak was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS until breaking a damper in SS3 and struggling through the rest of the day. His team-mate Elfyn Evans hit a rock in SS4 and lost almost 10min. Also in trouble were Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon who both crashed.
Saturday 1 August 2015
Three consecutive stage wins on Saturday afternoon secured Latvala a 13.2sec overnight lead after a titanic battle with Ogier. The two duelled for supremacy throughout the morning, with Latvala extending his 2.6sec lead to 3.0sec after the duo claimed two stage wins each.
In the afternoon, and despite torrential rain, Latvala attacked in the 21.14km Jukojärvi and more than doubled his lead as Ogier clipped a rock with his Polo R. Fearing a puncture, the Frenchman eased his pace and gave Latvala the break he needed. He added two more victories in the afternoon to stretch the lead into double figures and leave Ogier virtually conceding victory.
Østberg held a lonely third, 1min 14.8sec behind Ogier and almost two minutes clear of Neuville. Østberg inherited the place when Meeke crashed and broke his DS 3’s suspension. Tänak climbed from 10th to fifth while Juho Hänninen completed the top six.
Sunday 2 August 2015
Latvala kept his nerve to claim his third victory in Finland at a record-breaking average of 125.44kph, eclipsing the previous best of 122.89kph set at the same rally in 2012 by Sébastien Loeb.
He headed team-mate Ogier by 13.7sec to move second in the championship. “This was one of the greatest drives of my life,” said a delighted Latvala. “I’m proud to be a Finn today. I’ve had a tough season but winning my home event is like winning half a world championship."
Østberg secured his third podium of the season in third, 1min 23.1sec behind Ogier. Neuville finished fourth - a feat that seemed impossible shortly before Thursday’s start when his team faced a race to rebuild the car after the Belgian crashed heavily in Shakedown. Fifth went to Tänak and Hänninen completed the top six.