PHOTO: Co-driver Mikka Anttila (left) and Jari-Matti Latvala celebrate victory in Neste Oil Rally Finland (Volkswagen pic)
JARI-Matti Latvala won his home round of the FIA World Rally Championship for the third time after a thrilling duel with Volkswagen teammate Sébastien Ogier all the way to the end of Neste Oil Rally Finland today.
Latvala repeated last year’s win in a Volkswagen Polo R WRC, beating the dual world champion and current points leader by 13.7sec after 320km of flat-out driving over rollercoaster gravel roads in central Finland.
Citroën’s Mads Østberg finished third in a DS3 WRC to secure his third podium of the season.
As other top drivers including Hayden Paddon, Andreas Mikkelsen and Robert Kubica fell victim at times to the infamously destructive “gravel grand prix”, Latvala and Ogier duked it out over three days, never more than 14.5 sec apart across 20 stages.
Latvala won 10 tests and Ogier nine, with Citroen’s Kris Meeke the only other driver to claim a fastest time.
“I was one of the greatest drives I have ever done in my life,” an ecstatic Latvala said at the finish.
He did most of the work toward victory yesterday afternoon, beating Ogier over three stages to return to the service park with a 13.2 sec. overnight advantage and just two tests remaining today.
Nonetheless, a determined Ogier poured on the pressure with a breathtaking attack in the rally-closing Power Stage to claim the maximum three bonus points.
Athough Latvala’s victory boosted him to second place in the standings, he has barely half the points of Ogier with four rounds remaining, including Round 10, Coates Hire Rally Australia, on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 10-13 September.
Belgian driver Thierry Neuville recovered from a major crash in Thursday’s shakedown session to bring his Hyundai home in fourth place, ahead of M-Sport Ford driver Ott Tänak.
Finishing third on the Power Stage behind Latvala, Kris Meeke had been one of the fastest drivers on a fast event, but saw third outright turn to an eventual 18th when he broke a wheel on Saturday afternoon.
Australian Rally Champion Scott Pedder, co-driven by Dale Moscatt, finished an outstanding fifth in his WRC2 category and 15th outright, driving a Ford Fiesta R5.
It was the Melbourne driver’s best finish of his debut WRC season, having also contested the Portugal, Italy and Poland rounds. He will miss this month’s tarmac-surface Rallye Deutschland to prepare for Coates Hire Rally Australia.
RESULTS, Neste Oil Rally Finland (Rd 8 of 13, provisional):
1 J-M Latvala/M Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) Total time 2hr33min03.8sec
2 S Ogier/J Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) + 13.7sec behind winner
3 M Østberg/J Andersson (Citroën DS3 WRC) +1:36.8
4 T Neuville/N Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +3:58.7
5 O Tänak/R Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:29.3
6 J Hänninen/T Tuominen (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:44.3
7 M Prokop/J Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:20.3
8 E Lappi/J Ferm (Škoda Fabia R5) +7:11.2
9 P Tidemand/E Axelsson (Škoda Fabia R5) +8:52.2
10 L Bertelli/L Granai (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +9:37.4
15 S Pedder/D Moscatt (Ford Fiesta R5, Australia) +13:56.8
FIA Drivers’ standings (after Rd 8):
S Ogier 182 points
J-M Latvala 93
M Østberg 84
A Mikkelsen 83
T Neuville 70
K Meeke 54
E Evans 53
O Tänak 50
H Paddon 44
D Sordo 39
FIA Manufacturers’ standings (after Rd 8):
Volkswagen Motorsport 257 points
Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team 141
Hyundai Motorsport 139
M-Sport World Rally Team 126
Volkswagen Motorsport II 49
ADAC Rallye Deutschland 20-23 August