Latvala flies to
Finland lead

Jari-Matti Latvala delighted his home fans by leading Neste Oil Rally Finland on Friday night after an enthralling leg in which the lead changed hands three times.

He headed Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 2.6sec after almost 160km of flat-out action south-west of Jyväskylä. Kris Meeke completed the top three, the Ulsterman 21.4sec further back in Citroën’s DS 3.

Almost half the rally’s competitive distance was crammed into nine gravel speed tests. With no opportunity for service, drivers had to avoid problems as well as adapt to the rollercoaster jumps which make this the fastest round in the FIA World Rally Championship.

Ogier lost his overnight lead to Meeke in the opening stage but regained the advantage in the next test to end the morning 5.3sec clear. Latvala was hot on his heels before moving ahead by literally flying through the rollercoaster Ouninpohja, where cars leap into the air more than 70 times, to claim his 400th WRC stage win.

“I have never driven that stage so fast. I almost made myself scared in a couple of places because I had so much air over the jumps. It was the best stage of an afternoon that went extremely well,” said Latvala.

Road opener Ogier initially struggled for grip in the forests following yesterday’s torrential rain. Then the unusual lines taken by local competitors, who followed the WRC through the morning stages, left plenty of loose gravel to disadvantage him when they were repeated.

Kris Meeke - third despite time penalty

Meeke’s hopes were hampered by a transmission issue which left his car ‘wandering all over the road’. But the Ulsterman remained close to the Volkswagen duo until a 10sec penalty for checking in late at the penultimate stage dropped him back.

He led Citroën colleague Mads Østberg by 10.1sec, the Norwegian enjoying a troublefree day after a slow start, and the quartet were already well clear.

Thierry Neuville was fifth in a Hyundai i20. The Belgian struggled for confidence after yesterday’s shakedown crash with pace notes that were too slow, but climbed the order as drivers around him hit problems.

He headed team-mate Dani Sordo by 2.7sec, the Spaniard overcoming an exhaust issue. Juho Hänninen, Martin Prokop, WRC 2 leader Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tänak completed the leaderboard.

Tänak was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS until breaking a front left damper against a rock in SS3 and struggling through the rest of the day. It was a similar story for team-mate Elfyn Evans who hit a rock in SS4 and damaged the rear suspension. He lost almost 10min.

Andreas Mikkelsen rolled heavily in SS5 and the damage to his Polo R was too great for him to restart tomorrow. Hayden Paddon crashed his i20 out of fifth and Robert Kubica retired his Fiesta RS with alternator problems.

Saturday’s action comprises two identical loops of four stages west of Jyväskylä covering 131.04km.

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