OTT Tänak was the early leader of Neste Rally Finland after winning Thursday night’s opening speed test.
The Ford Fiesta driver was quickest through the 2.31km Harju parkland and street stage in the centre of Jyväskylä by 1.1sec from Thierry Neuville.
The Estonian delighted the legions of countrymen who have made the short journey to Finland to cheer him on and sported a broad grin at the finish of the mixed surface test.
“It’s the kind of event where you can smile,” said Tänak, ahead of three days of furious action on blisteringly fast rollercoaster gravel roads.
“I have big respect for these roads. They are very challenging, but when you have a good feeling, it can be so enjoyable.”
Neuville and Sébastien Ogier are engaged in a fierce duel for the title with five rounds remaining, and first blood went to the Belgian Hyundai i20 driver, who edged Ogier by 0.4sec.
“It’s going to be a difficult event. The main thing is to enjoy it, stay in a close battle with Seb and finish ahead of him at the end,” Neuville said.
Craig Breen was fourth, the Irishman delighted with the performance of his Citroën C3 after a dismal weekend at the previous round in Poland earlier this month. Jari-Matti Latvala and Hayden Paddon were fifth and sixth in a Toyota Yaris and i20.
Esapekka Lappi clipped some tyres with his Yaris at a chicane that was tighter than expected. Teammate Juho Hänninen was safely through after smashing through a chicane during this morning’s shakedown, requiring a new radiator to be fitted before the start.
Drivers face a marathon of almost 16 hours on Friday as the rally enters the forests for the first time. They tackle 12 stages covering 145.71km, the day ending with a repeat of Harju.