Ott Tänak’s topsy-turvy Neste Rally Finland continued on Saturday afternoon when the Estonian rocketed back up the leaderboard into fourth.
Stage info: SS17/18
SS1&: Ouninpohja 2, 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.
SS18: Päijälä 2, 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.
After yesterday’s time-consuming problems, Tänak charged back up the order this morning only for a puncture to relegate him to eighth – at the back of a closely-grouped quintet of drivers.
He overhauled Andreas Mikkelsen in the repeat run through Ouninpohja before demoting Mads Østberg, Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville in the following Päijälä to move to the front of the fighting five.
Rain during the mid-leg service prompted Tänak to opt for soft compound rubber but drier than expected conditions left him with concerns. “We’re on the wrong tyres and struggling a little but we’ll keep pushing,” he said.
Rally leader Kris Meeke was fastest in both stages. He topped the timesheets in Ouninpohja for a second time by 5.8sec from Jari-Matti Latvala before outpacing the Finn by a tenth of second through Päijäla to stretch his lead to 42.3sec.
“I’m in a good head space and driving to a good rhythm to keep my concentration. These stages are so enjoyable,” said Meeke.
Latvala was relieved to escape unscathed from Päijälä. “I gave it a good push and went really well but there was one place where I had changed the pace notes and went a bit faster. I landed in the side of a ditch and could see all the fans starting to run away!” he said.
Craig Breen retained third, despite losing some seconds in Päijälä. “I didn’t drive the stage at proper speed this morning because of Camilli’s accident. It’s a fast stage and you need real commitment but I was caught out. I tried to commit but what can you do?” said the Irishman.
Neuville, Paddon and Østberg were split by 4.0sec and they opened a gap to road opener Andreas Mikkelsen, who endured the worst of the loose gravel on the road surface. Tenth-placed Kevin Abbring lost the use of the paddle shift gearchange in his Hyundai i20 and the engine misfired when he switched to the manual system.