PHOTO: Sebastien Ogier is spectacular on Finland’s opening stage (Volkswagen pic)
SÉBASTIEN Ogier won Thursday evening’s opening special stage at Neste Oil Rally Finland as less than a second covered the fastest three drivers.
The French double world champion topped the times in the 2.27km Harju by 0.6sec in his Volkswagen Polo R. Kris Meeke was second in Citroën’s DS 3 with Andreas Mikkelsen completing the top three, 0.8sec off the lead in another Polo R.
Ogier started last of the top runners and felt it gave him an advantage over the tricky mix of asphalt roads and gravel tracks near the centre of Jyväskylä, which were soaked by torrential rain two hours before the start.
“It’s never easy in the street stages, so easy to make a small mistake,” he said. “It was better to start at the back because the roads were drying minute by minute for each car.
“Tomorrow will be a long day with two passes through the mythical Ouninpohja stage and no service, but the conditions are beautiful and the stages fantastic. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Robert Kubica was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RS, with the Polo R of Jari-Matti Latvala and Mads Østberg’s DS 3 rounding off the top six. Both Latvala and Ott Tänak clipped chicanes, while Tänak and Martin Prokop reported handbrake problems.
Friday covers almost half the rally’s competitive distance and all tackled with no opportunity for service from the moment drivers leave Jyväskylä in the morning until they return in the evening.
Two identical loops of four gravel stages are followed by a repeat of Harju. It adds up to 158.43km of action – and that includes two passes through Ouninpohja, a remarkable stretch of rollercoaster road regarded as the sport’s biggest test of bravery and commitment.