SS1: Tänak sets Finland pace
Ott Tänak was the early pacesetter at Neste Rally Finland after winning Thursday night’s spectacular opening speed test in the centre of Jyväskylä.
Stage info: SS1
Harju 1, 2.31km
Neste Rally Finland kicks off with the short Harju test near the centre of host town Jyväskylä. It returned to the itinerary in 2014 following a 16-year lay-off, and is used in virtually the same format as last year. It’s a mix of asphalt roads and gravel tracks, and drivers must take care at a fast and tricky downhill asphalt descent into a tight turn between trees onto gravel.
The Estonian was quickest in the short mixed surface Harju special stage in his Toyota Yaris, stopping the clocks 0.7sec faster than WRC points leader Thierry Neuville. Sebastien Ogier, Neuville’s principal title rival, was a further tenth back.
Tänak is all too aware that perhaps his biggest rivals this weekend could be Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mates and Finnish heroes Esapekka Lappi, who won in 2017, and Jari-Matti Latvala, who has won the rally three times.
“The home guys know how to manage these roads so it will be a great challenge for me. I can’t complain though, I have the same tools this year as they have so I just need to be quicker. It’s all up to me,” he said.
Neuville took no risks in his Hyundai i20 on roads that dried rapidly after a brief rain shower, while Ogier’s Ford Fiesta nudged a tyre barrier in a chicane just before the finish.
Andreas Mikkelsen was a tenth of a second behind Ogier in another i20, with Lappi a further 0.8sec adrift. Mads Østberg, fastest through this morning’s shakedown, was tied with Citroën C3 team-mate Craig Breen in sixth.
The rally begins in earnest on Friday with two loops of blisteringly fast gravel road stages circling Jyväskylä, followed by a repeat of the Harju test. Ten stages and 14 hours behind the wheel add up to 126.37km of action.
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