Kris Meeke made a sensational start to Saturday’s action at Neste Rally Finland by crushing his rivals in the daunting Ouninpohja speed test.
Stage info: SS13/14
SS13: Ouninpohja 1, 33.00km
The legendary Ouninpohja is regarded as the sport’s biggest test of bravery and commitment. This year brings the additional challenge of being driven in the opposite direction for the first time since 1994. It’s a rollercoaster from start to finish, with more than 75 jumps, and hardly a straight worthy of the name as it flows from corner to corner at crazy speeds. It is narrow up to the famous Kakaristo hairpin after which wider roads prompt eye-watering pace.
SS14: Päijälä 1, 23.50km
Mikko Hirvonen refers to this stage as ‘the little brother of Ouninpohja’. It’s an awesome test with crests, jumps and technical sections on wide and blisteringly fast roads. The final 4km are slightly slower, but the rest of the stage is full rollercoaster. Finland at its best.
The Northern Irishman was fastest through the rollercoaster stage, regarded as the sport’s biggest test of bravery and commitment, by a remarkable 13.4sec in Citroën’s DS 3 to take his lead over Jari-Matti Latvala to more than 30sec for the first time.
Meeke’s performance deflated local hero Latvala and he followed up with second fastest time in the following Päijälä to head the Volkswagen Polo R driver by 34.7sec.
“I was wary of that stage and got up an hour earlier this morning to watch the video of it,” said Meeke. “I just concentrated on my rhythm but I don’t think I can improve on that next time through. After my good run in Ouninpohja I didn’t have to do anything crazy in the next one.”
There was plenty of loose gravel on the roads in the dry conditions and while that favoured Meeke’s lower start position, it proved a handicap to early starter Latvala.
“After Ouninpohja, there was no point in taking big risks in the next one,” said the Finn. “The cleaning effect is so much and I have no chance of matching Kris in the first pass. Maybe in the second pass, but by that time maybe the lead could be too big.”
Andreas Mikkelsen suffered most on the slippery gravel. Seventh in Ouninpohja and 10th in Päijälä sent the Norwegian tumbling from third overall to sixth in his Volkswagen Polo R. He opened the road in Päijäla after brake problems delayed Sébastien Ogier and went off the road briefly 800 metres after the start.
Both stages were interrupted by accidents. Ouninpohja was halted after Lorenzo Bertelli crashed while Päijälä was paused after Eric Camilli went off the road. Both drivers and their co-drivers were taken to hospital for checks.
Craig Breen was delayed in Päijälä following Camilli’s crash and the Irishman is expected to receive a notional time from the organisers which could propel him into third.
Thierry Neuville struggled with a lack of feeling in his Hyundai i20 while Ogier picked up a 2min10sec penalty after stopping on the liaison section after Ouninpohja to repair a brake problem before the next stage.
Ott Tänak topped the times in Päijälä to move ahead of Mikkelsen, Neuville and Mads Østberg in his Ford Fiesta RS.