Kris Meeke retained a comfortable advantage in Neste Rally Finland on Friday afternoon as he played an intriguing game of cat and mouse with closest challenger Jari-Matti Latvala.
Stage info: SS7/8/9
SS7: Äänekoski-Valtra, 7.39km
Something new for the current crop of drivers as this test was last used in 1980, but in a different format. It is narrow from the start as it runs between fields and houses. Not a particularly challenging test except for a sharp right bend over a crest after 1.6km which tightens, and an equally tricky tightening left between the trees at 3km.
SS8: Mökkiperä 2, 13.84km
Mökkiperä is one of the rally’s most technical tests and a tough wake-up call. It has plenty of jumps but is slower than many others. The opening section comprises flat roads, long straights and 90 degree corners. But after 6km it switches character, with one fast corner following another, most of them with tricky crests to increase the challenge.
SS9: Jukojärvi 2, 21.24km
An opening 7.6km section, which contains a monster jump at 4.9km and was driven for the first time last year, leads into familiar roads. Once it joins the usual route, the rhythm changes several times and there are stones lurking by the roadside which demand precision. The final 13km are blisteringly fast, especially the section from 17.50km - 19.50km which Mikko Hirvonen says requires just one dab of the brakes!
Latvala was quicker in the opening Ääneskoski - Valtra speed test following the mid-leg service, only for Meeke to strike back with fastest time in the second pass through Mökkiperä. Latvala was again the faster in Jukojärvi but the net result was a 1.4sec advantage to DS 3 driver Meeke to extend his lead to 20.2sec.
The roads cut up during the repeat pass and Meeke said after Mökkiperä: “It was difficult to get out of the ruts and turn into the corners. There were a few big surprises in there.”
It was a similar story from Latvala. “There were some places with nasty stones and they gave me a bit of a fright. The braking areas were breaking up and bringing out stones,” explained the Volkswagen Polo R driver.
Sébastien Ogier admitted to a few visits into ditches as he battled to overcome the disadvantage of opening the roads. The championship leader completed the top three ahead of an enthralling battle between Thierry Neuville, Andreas Mikkelsen and Craig Breen.
The trio swapped places in every stage before ending in the same order as they left service. Mikkelsen’s Polo R headed Neuville, who was happier with the handling of his Hyundai i20, by 0.8sec with Breen a further 3.9sc behind.
Ott Tänak (pictured above) quickly put his morning suspension problems behind him. The Estonian was fastest in Äänekoski - Valtra and Jukojärvi in his Ford Fiesta RS to climb from 10th to seventh and move within touching distance of the three-car fight ahead.
Yazeed Al Rajhi (below) retired after rolling at the final corner of Äänekoski - Valtra, his second roll in two days after crashing in shakedown yesterday morning. Marcos Ligato also rolled in the following test, bringing an early end to his day.