JUST SIX-TENTHS OF A SECOND COVERED THE LEADING THREE DRIVERS AS JARI-MATTI LATVALA LOST AND THEN REGAINED THE LEAD OF NESTE RALLY FINLAND IN A FURIOUS OPENING TO THE SECOND LEG ON SATURDAY MORNING.
Ott Tänak vaulted from an overnight fourth into first as the leading pack was reshuffled in the Pihlajakoski speed test. The Toyota Yaris driver, with a better start position today after opening the slippery gravel roads yesterday, won the test to lead Latvala by 0.5sec.
His team-mate Latvala responded in Päijälä to move back to the front by 0.2sec. Kris Meeke, driving the third Yaris, won that stage to sit just 0.6sec down on Latvala after a breathless opening to the fastest day of the WRC’s fastest rally.
“In the first stage I had a moment on a right corner over a crest,” said Latvala. “We jumped and landed in a ditch so after that I had to be a bit more careful. We had a good run in the next one. It’s an incredible fight at the moment.”
Tänak felt the revised Pihlajakoski was more tricky than it appeared during the pre-event recce, but both the Estonian and Meeke were satisfied with their start to the longest day of the four-day event.
Esapekka Lappi began to be distanced by the leading trio in his Citroën C3. The Finn was second in Pihlajakoski but ended Päijälä 6.5sec off the lead in fourth.
“It’s the same pace as yesterday but Mr Tanak is having a good road position now. I was absolutely on the limit and we have no chance. I knew before the rally that if I needed to fight with him I had no chance. That’s how it is, but I try to fight with the other Toyotas,” he said.
Hyundai i20 team-mates Craig Breen and Andreas Mikkelsen traded positions in each test, the Irishman eventually emerging 1.4sec to the good, despite slowing in Pihlajakoski for an apparent puncture.
“I had an alarm for zero tyre pressure on the dash. I was braking and hesitating on all the fast stuff wondering if I had a puncture or not,” said the Irishman.
Sébastien Ogier was fighting illness to lie 0.8sec behind in his Citroën C3. “I was quite sick the whole night and I am struggling to wake up now, so I have to force myself. I didn’t really sleep and emptied myself all night if you must know the details!” he said.