Kris Meeke and Ott Tänak set a furious pace through Friday morning’s speed tests at Neste Rally Finland to distance themselves from their rivals at the head of the leaderboard.
Stage info: 2/3/4
SS2: Mökkiperä 1, 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.
SS3: Halinen, 7.07km
A tricky stage on narrow roads barely wider than a car that has never been used before. Grass verges encourage cutting, but stones are hidden in almost every bend. The first section contains many crests and corners but with few actual jumps. That changes at 5km where a long straight ends with a big jump which could see cars fly long.
SS4:Jukojärvi 1, 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!
Meeke was fastest in Mökkiperä while Tänak topped the times in Jukojärvi to leave the Northern Irishman with a slender 0.7sec advantage in Citroën’s DS3.
“I still have a bit of a margin, OK maybe not a margin, but I feel comfortable. I braked a bit too early in places in the first stage and it was difficult to find a perfect rhythm in the next one but it’s all good,” said Meeke.
Tänak’s hard compound tyres were not suited to Mökkiperä and Halinen which were damp in places. But the drier Jukojärvi played into the hands of the Ford Fiesta RS driver.
“I pushed like hell. I can’t do any more at the moment. The grip was still a bit low but consistent all the way through. It was drier than the others so I knew I had to push as hard as I could. It was fun in every corner!” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen was best of the rest, 14.2sec off the lead in his Volkswagen Polo R. The Norwegian admitted to a couple of mistakes in Halinen but said his preparations in watching his recce videos over and over again was paying off.
Road opener Sébastien Ogier struggled in the drier sections where loose gravel made conditions slippery and the Polo R driver was fourth.
Jari-Matti Latvala’s hopes of taking a third straight win took a knock in Jukojärvi. Having been fastest in Halinen, he dropped almost 10sec after a mistake.
“We ran wide in a downhill right bend and hit a bank. I had a slow puncture and the tyre delaminated near the end. It’s not a complete disaster. We lost a bit of time but I did as much as I could,” said fifth-placed Latvala (below). Craig Breen was sixth, despite overshooting a Jukojärvi junction.
Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon had mixed mornings. Neuville was unhappy with the handling at the rear of his i20, while Paddon’s plan to try a smoother driving style on the blisteringly fast roads did not work and he returned to his usual system.
Both Lorenzo Bertelli and Valeriy Gorban struggled with two-wheel drive only, Ukraine driver Gorban diagnosing a broken propshaft in his Mini John Cooper.