SS6/7: Østberg back in front

Mads Østberg edged back into the lead of Neste Rally Finland as his titanic battle with Ott Tänak continued on Friday afternoon.

Stage info: SS6/7

SS6: Oittila, 19.34km
Much changed from 2017. The opening 8km features a small, narrow and increasingly technical road which has not been driven in the rally previously. There are tricky places and rocks close to the line, so this section is a potential trouble spot. It becomes wider and faster towards Oittila village and the section from 11km to 12km is unbelievably quick. A more technical 3km road leads to the finish.

SS7: Moksi 2, 20.04km
Moksi is a tough opener to Friday’s action, with many changes in rhythm. Two worlds meet as narrow roads contrast with wide sections where drivers push at crazy speeds. Precision is called for on the small roads, with plenty of stones lurking on the inside of tight corners. A big jump near the finish promises plenty of two-wheel landings for fans.

He won the Oittila speed test from the Estonian by 1.2sec in his Citroën C3 to regain top spot by a tenth of a second. Remarkably the pair tied for fastest time in the repeated Moksi special stage.

“I saw I was leading by 0.1sec before the stage and thought from here on we would play it safe!” Østberg joked. “You can see I’m sweating so that’s enough to show how hard I’m pushing. I’ve taken some risks. I know what Ott is willing to do, so I have to do the same.”

Tänak’s mood was not as jovial as his rival. “This afternoon the feeling has not been good and I’ve been not so happy with the handling. I’ve been struggling quite a lot but I don’t know what’s changed since this morning,” said the Toyota Yaris driver.

Third-placed Jari-Matti Latvala was 22.0sec further back. The Finn was third in Moksi but admitted he had no answer to the pace of the leading duo. “I can’t do any more, that’s the speed I do now,” said the Yaris pilot.

Fellow countryman Teemu Suninen vaulted Latvala and Hayden Paddon to briefly hold third after posting third fastest time in Oittila. He lost position to Latvala in Moksi but held a 4.2sec advantage over the Kiwi in fifth, with Elfyn Evans completing the top six.

Championship leader Thierry Neuville stiffened the set-up of his Hyundai i20 in service and the Belgian felt much happier. However, he was more than 1min 40sec adrift of the lead in 10th and trailed seventh-placed title rival Sébastien Ogier by almost 50sec.

Hanging dust added extra difficulty in Oittila and several drivers reported they were too hesitant as a result.

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