SS18/19: Heartbreak for Latvala

Esapekka Lappi regained the lead of Neste Rally Finland on Saturday afternoon when team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala retired.

Stage info: SS18/19

SS18: Saalahti 2, 4.21km
Short but sweet. This stage returned to the itinerary last year for the first time since 1991. It features a hard-packed surface that is almost like asphalt. Two left junctions near the start could cause problems and there are plenty of bends near the finish. On such a short stage it is impossible to gain much time, but easy to lose seconds at the junctions.

SS19: Ouninpohja 2, 24.38km
The legendary Ouninpohja is regarded as the sport’s biggest test of bravery and commitment. It’s a rollercoaster from start to finish, with more than 75 jumps, most of which are taken flat-out, and hardly a straight worthy of the name as it flows from corner to corner at crazy speeds. This year’s edition starts where it did in 2013 and includes iconic spots like the Kakaristo hairpin and the Yellow House jump.

Latvala had won all five speed tests today in his Toyota Yaris to overhaul Lappi and build a 8.5sec advantage. But Latvala’s car ground to a halt just before the midpoint of the famous Ouninpohja special stage and his dreams of a fourth win on his home rally were over.

“Unfortunately I saw the number on the rear window as I drove by,” said Lappi, who started the stage after his fellow Finn. “I didn’t want to be leading like this, it’s really a shame. It’s not nice.”

Television images showed Latvala beating the steering wheel of his Yaris as the car cruised to a stop. It was eventually pushed down an access road. Speculation suggested a possible electrical problem but there was no confirmation from Toyota.

Latvala’s demise ruined Toyota’s hopes of a 1-2-3 finish. Juho Hänninen climbed to second in another Yaris, 54.1sec behind Lappi, but the fight for second and third was a tight one.

Teemu Suninen was 4.3sec behind in a Ford Fiesta, as Finns continued to fill the top three places, and Elfyn Evans was just 6.2sec adrift in a similar car in fourth.

Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville completed the top six, title challenger Neuville’s potential haul of points steadily improving after a torrid weekend in his Hyundai i20.

“We made some changes but the grip levels are higher and the car is going much better in these conditions. In the slippery stages we can still lose time. I enjoyed this one, it’s probably the best stage in the world,” he said.

Ott Tänak was up to eighth in his Fiesta, despite overshooting a chicane in Ouninpohja.

Head to WRC+ to see the latest onboard and video reports from Neste Rally Finland.

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