Friday | 31 Jul 2015

SS7: Latvala closes on Ogier

Jari-Matti Latvala outpaced leader Sébastien Ogier on both Friday’s afternoon’s opening stages at Neste Oil Rally Finland to reduce the gap between the dueling team-mates to 3.3sec.

Stage info: SS6 / SS7

SS7: Pihlajakoski 2, 14.51km
A repeat of the stage used last year for the first time since the 1980s. It starts on a wide road with plenty of small crests that require precision, before becoming narrower from 9.60km to the finish. There’s only one big jump and it’s not the most challenging test, but the speed will wake up drivers.

SS8: Päijälä 2, 23.56km
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 opening 4km are the most technical, but the second half is full rollercoaster. The only difference from last year is a new 180 metre section at the start.

Latvala won the second pass through Pihlajakoski by 0.7sec from his Volkswagen Polo R rival at a remarkable average of 133.26kph, before claiming back another 1.3sec in Päijälä as drizzle began to fall.

“I really had to focus and concentrate in Päijälä because I lost time there this morning, so I knew I had to perform well. There was a bit of dampness but it didn’t affect the grip, which was better this afternoon,” said Latvala.

Although he closed on Ogier, Latvala had only 3.9sec in hand over a rejuvenated Kris Meeke, who set a stunning fastest time in SS7. He was 3.0sec quicker than Latvala despite continuing to be affected by what he believes is a transmission issue in Citroën’s DS 3.

“Sometimes when you have a little issue, it focuses the mind. The car is wandering over the road, but I can talk to it in a straight line and in the corners it follows the ruts. It’s 99 per cent and I have to make the other one per cent,” said Meeke.

Hayden Paddon’s good run in fifth came to a violent end when the Kiwi crashed heavily 1km from the end of SS6. Both he and co-driver John Kennard, celebrating the 30th anniversary of his WRC debut, were unhurt.

After a trouble-filled morning, Robert Kubica retired his Ford Fiesta RS with an alternator problem at the mid-leg tyre zone. The Pole’s demise and Paddon’s crash promoted Dani Sordo to fifth, but he ended Päijälä with what could be a broken exhaust.

Team-mate Thierry Neuville climbed to sixth, but the Belgian continued to struggle with pace notes that were to slow for the roads.

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