SS3-5: Tänak fends off Østberg

Two stage victories carried Ott Tänak into a slender lead over Mads Østberg following a fast and furious Friday morning at Neste Rally Finland.

Stage info: SS3-5

SS3: Urria 1, 12.28km
This is a flat-out classic but with 2km of new and smaller roads both at the beginning and end. Ex-Ford pilot Mikko Hirvonen still rates it as his favourite stage, even though he rolled his Ford Focus into a ball here in 2010. Once onto the wide roads, it is full of high-speed corners, jumps and crests which demand bravery and ‘sisu’. Probably best known for its legendary jump which draws huge crowds.

SS4: Ässämäki 1, 12.33km
A new stage that at the beginning draws on roads from last year’s Halinen test, but driven in the opposite direction. After a straight-forward opening, a junction left after 5.5km leads into trickier bends, with a tight combination of corners at 11km. But there is nothing too difficult and perhaps the area about which drivers must be most cautions is the opening section which is littered with stones.

SS5: Äänekoski 1, 7.71km
Äänekoski is the most northerly stage of the rally and has never been driven in this direction in the World Rally Car era. It’s more challenging this way, with many deceiving and tightening places, so drivers must pay attention in the recce to ensure pin-point accuracy in pace notes. A dropping left corner at 6km is especially tricky as the road disappears, and a field in the background could offer an escape route for those who are too hot.

After initially extending his overnight lead, Tänak yielded the initiative to the Norwegian, who topped the times in the Assamäki speed test. Østberg’s advantage was short lived as the Estonian won Äänekoski to claim a 1.1sec lead in his Toyota Yaris.

“We had maximum on every stage, obviously everyone was sleeping this morning!” said Tänak, who added his focus was on securing a good road position from which to attack tomorrow.

Østberg (pictured below) relished the upgraded set-up to his Citroën C3 but admitted to ‘a couple of mistakes’ in Äänekoski which undoubtedly cost him top spot.

The dry roads were made very slippery by loose gravel on the surface. The early starters suffered worst and what was already a difficult morning for Thierry Neuville became worse in Äänekoski when the championship leader went off.

“It was a pace note which was a bit too optimistic. I was thinking about correcting it but I didn’t hear the next note and went straight,” the Belgian explained.

He slithered down an escape road, damaging the rear of his Hyundai i20 and lost almost 30sec. He held 10th overall, 67.5sec behind Tänak.

Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top three in another Yaris, the Finn 9.7sec behind Østberg. A win in Urria and second in Assamäki kept the Finn right in the battle.

Haydon Paddon was fourth in another i20, a further 4.0sec back after a consistent morning which culminated in second fastest in Äänekoski.

He overhauled Teemu Suninen, who had been trading places with Latvala but was lucky to escape a massive incident near the finish. The young Finn lost the rear of his Ford Fiesta when braking for a fast left and bounced in and out of a ditch.

Elfyn Evans completed the top six ahead of Fiesta team-mate Sébastien Ogier. The Frenchman was almost 30sec adrift of Tänak, but nearly 40sec clear of title rival Neuville. Ogier suffered from starting second in the road order but enjoyed a clean morning.

A frustrated Esapekka Lappi was seventh after changing the set-up on his Yaris for every stage in an effort to improve grip. He was followed by Breen and Neuville.

Andreas Mikkelsen dropped three minutes after mishearing a pace note and tipping his Hyundai i20 onto its side in Ässämäki. The windscreen was broken in the crash and the Norwegian drove the final test with limited visibility and a flapping bonnet.

Head to WRC+ to watch All Live from Neste Rally Finland, including every stage broadcast live, breaking service park news and expert studio analysis.

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