OTT Tänak secured back-to-back Neste Rally Finland victories on Sunday to boost his lead in a tight FIA World Rally Championship.
PHOTO: Surrounded by hundreds of cheering countrymen, Estonian Ott Tänak leaps for joy after his Neste Rally Finland victory (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool).
Tänak’s third win from the past four rallies, by 25.6sec from home hero Esapekka Lappi, opened a 22-point lead over reigning champion Sébastien Ogier in his quest for a maiden title.
It banished memories of the crushing disappointment last time out in Italy, when broken steering on his Toyota Yaris deprived him of victory a handful of kilometres from the finish.
[Watch one-hour TV highlights of Neste Rally Finland on 10 BOLD and tenplay.com.au at 3pm on Saturday 10 August.]
Finland is the fastest event on the WRC calendar. Smooth gravel roads that wind around forests and lakes near Jyväskylä in central Finland, huge jumps and blind corners over crests demand the utmost bravery – and this year’s encounter did not disappoint.
PHOTO: Ott Tänak leaps to victory on the rally-closing Power Stage at Neste Rally Finland
(Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool).
Roared on by thousands of Estonian fans who crossed the Baltic Sea to support him, Tänak shrugged off the disadvantage of opening Friday’s slippery roads to fight tooth and nail with teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke and Citroën C3 pilot Lappi.
Fractions of a second blanketed the quartet until Latvala and Meeke hit the same rogue rock on Saturday and fell away, while Lappi could not match Tänak’s pace.
Tänak eased through Sunday’s short final leg and ensured a maximum score by winning the Wolf Power Stage to gain five bonus points.
“It’s been a big weekend. I believe the summer break came at the right time as I was really devastated after Italy. Now we got the perfect result and we need to continue in the same way. There are still five rallies to go, so there’s a big job to do,” he explained.
Second for 2017 rally winner Lappi represented a welcome return to form after a lean season and consolidated his pedigree as a “Flying Finn”, one of the locals who each year add another page to the history of this legendary event. He finished 7.6sec clear of Latvala, who recovered his composure after his rock-bashing escapade punctured a rear tyre.
Andreas Mikkelsen was another to rediscover his pace. Driving a Hyundai i20, he held off Ogier by 2.7sec to finish fourth. Ogier battled sickness for the final two days but fended off Craig Breen in their three-way fight.
Breen impressed on his first WRC drive in an i20 and the Irishman lent a helping hand to teammate Thierry Neuville in the Belgian’s title bid. He deliberately incurred a 20sec penalty, allowing Neuville to leapfrog him into sixth and score extra points.
Teemu Suninen, WRC 2 Pro winner Kalle Rovanperä and WRC 2 winner Nikolay Gryazin completed the leaderboard.
Gus Greensmith retired from ninth after crashing his Fiesta into a tree, while Meeke stopped again when he hit a rock and damaged his Yaris’ suspension.
The championship reverts to asphalt in Germany later this month for the first time since March. ADAC Rallye Deutschland is based at Bostalsee in south-west Germany on 22-25 August.
The championship ends with Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 14-17 November.
Tickets for Kennards Hire Rally Australia, priced from $29 to $119, are available now from Ticketek.com. Event highlights will include two nights of the harbourside Destination New South Wales Super Special Stage and a free concert by legendary rock band Dragon exclusively for 4-day ticket-holders.
Neste Rally Finland (WRC Rd 9 of 14):
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2:30:40.3
2 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferme (Citroen C3 WRC): +25.6
3 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +33.2
4 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +53.4
5 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroen C3 WRC) +56.1
6 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:32.4
7 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:38.2
8 Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2:33.8
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +7:54.1
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Yaroslav Fedorov (Skoda Fabia R5) +10:28.7
WRC drivers’ standings:
1 Ott Tänak 180 points
2 Sébastien Ogier 158
3 Thierry Neuville 155
4 Elfyn Evans 78
5 Andreas Mikkelsen 71
6 Teemu Suninen 66
7 Kris Meeke 60
8 Esapekka Lappi 58
9 Jari-Matti Latvala 56
10 Dani Sordo 50
WRC manufacturers’ standings:
1 Hyundai WRT 262 points
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing 236
3 Citroën Total WRT 198
4 M-Sport Ford WRT 158