SS12/13: Tänak storms clear

Ott Tänak dominated Saturday morning’s opening two speed tests to create clear daylight on the leaderboard between himself and closest challenger Mads Østberg.

Stage info: SS12/13

SS12: Päijälä 1, 23.92km
The longest stage of the rally - and the best, according to Mikko Hirvonen. An awesome test with crests, jumps and technical sections on wide and blisteringly fast roads, before turning onto a smaller and softer finale. There were plenty of crashes here 12 months ago, especially at a sharp right corner after 9.5km. Violent jumps among a pine forest near the start set the tone for this roller-coaster challenge. Finland at its best!

SS13: Pihlajakoski 1, 14.90km
Running along the shores of Lake Päijänne, Pihlajakoski is the only stage that remains unchanged from 2017. The small road at the start is surprisingly fast, despite a few deceptive tightening bends. At 5.5km it turns onto a wider road and the speed increases, as does the number of bigger and bigger crests.

He won both the Päijälä and Pihlajakoski special stages to extend his overnight 5.8sec advantage over the Norwegian to 19.0sec.

It was a stunning start to the day from the Estonian, but all was calm inside his Toyota Yaris.

“I’m definitely not pushing as hard as yesterday. Yesterday was flat out but I wanted to see the pace of the other guys before I take any risks. My rhythm was better in the second test but at the moment it’s difficult to push at the maximum, and there’s no need,” he said.

Østberg was third and second in the two tests in his Citroën C3 and there was also a cautious approach to his driving. “We’re trying to build the speed step by step and it feels quite good. We’re not willing to do anything stupid, at this speed you want to stay on the roads,” he explained.

Jari-Matti Latvala was second in Päijälä and third in Pihlajakoski in his Yaris to retain third and stretch his advantage over Hayden Paddon. He admitted he could not match his team-mate’s speed. “Ott is now in his own class, I don’t have any chance for that,” he said.

Paddon reported a brake problem in his Hyundai i20 at the finish of Pihlajakoski but stayed comfortably clear of Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta.

Esapekka Lappi was a man on the move. The 2017 winner demoted Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier to climb to sixth in his Yaris, 5.9sec behind fellow Finn Suninen.

Evans regarded himself lucky to survive a big incident near the start of Pihlajakoski while team-mate Ogier was lacking confidence after making big changes to his Fiesta’s set-up in service last night.

Championship leader Thierry Neuville remained 10th. The i20 driver’s hopes of cleaner conditions took a knock when road opener Khalid Al Qassimi retired after crashing in Päijälä, meaning only team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen is ahead of him in the start order.

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