Kris Meeke held a comfortable lead in Neste Rally Finland after Friday morning’s speed tests as broken suspension brought a premature end to Ott Tänak’s victory challenge.
Stage info: SS5 / SS6
SS5: Surkee 1, 14.95km
Two worlds meet in Surkee. Narrow roads with tight places and stones contrast with wide sections where drivers can push at crazy speeds. The opening 5km use narrow forest roads with tall grass lining the roadside, but then the stage widens and the brake pedal isn’t needed too often. It ends with a final narrower stretch of almost 4km.
SS6: Horkka 1, 15.01km
Horkka has been shortened by 500 metres at the start since last year. Apart from a narrow 2.5km section early on, which will need to be treated with care, it is fast and wide with several big jumps, including the one where Evgeny Novikov almost flipped backwards in the air several years ago. Drivers can’t relax as every corner is capable of catching them out.
Meeke headed Jari-Matti Latvala by 18.8sec in a DS 3 after five fast and furious gravel stages in the forests near Jyväskylä. His early morning win in Mökkiperä was followed by a second fastest time in Surkee to build – by Finland standards – a strong advantage.
“It’s good to have a lead like this but a lot can happen, look what happened to Jari-Matti earlier. Jari-Matti is on home ground in Finland and there are still two-and-half days in which he can catch me. I’m feeling quite controlled so that’s nice,” said Meeke, who followed his Surkee win with second fastest in Horkka.
Latvala topped the times in Horkka, the Finn recovering from fifth after hitting a bank and puncturing earlier in his Volkswagen Polo R. His fightback was aided by Tänak’s problem in Surkee which was a mystery to the Estonian.
“It was strange. I started to brake and something broke. I lost the back of the car and had a big spin on a straight. Something was broken at the front and I couldn’t fix it for the next stage. All I could do was straighten the steering,” said Tänak, who dropped almost a minute to plunge to 10th.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier overhauled team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen for third. The Frenchman was 4.5sec behind Latvala and 5.9sec clear of Mikkelsen, who found the conditions increasingly slippery as the roads dried.
Thierry Neuville was only two-tenths of a second further back in fifth, but the Belgian was frustrated by a lack of grip in his Hyundai i20 and looking for solutions as the crews returned to the Jyväskylå service park.
Craig Breen ran as high as fourth before ending the morning sixth in his DS 3. Mads Østberg climbed ahead of Hayden Paddon for seventh, the Kiwi echoing team-mate Neuville’s complaints about a lack of grip. Eric Camilli and Tänak completed the leaderboard.