TOYOTA driver Ott Tänak overcame a barren run of form to claim a dominant first Neste Rally Finland win and close the gap in the FIA World Rally Championship on Sunday.
PHOTO: Ott Tänak literally flies his Toyota Yaris across the finish line to a maiden victory in Neste Rally Finland (Jaanus Ree/WRC Media pic)
He bounced back from dismal results in the previous two rallies to claim his second win of the WRC season and career fourth with an accomplished drive on the fastest rally of the year.
Thousands of Estonian fans crossed the Baltic Sea to celebrate their country’s first Finnish success since Tänak’s mentor, Markko Märtin, triumphed in 2003.
PHOTO: Thousands of Ott Tänak’s Estonian countrymen joyfully celebrated his victory in Neste Rally Finland (Jaanus Ree/WRC Media pic)
Tänak led for virtually the entire four-day gravel rally on his Toyota Gazoo Racing team’s doorstep in Jyväskylä, in central Finland. He steered his Yaris World Rally Car across the podium with a 32.7sec advantage after almost 320km of furious action.
After coming out on top of a fierce first-leg fight with Citroën’s Mads Østberg, Tanak pulled clear on Saturday and eased through the final day. He kept some pace in reserve to win the rally-closing Power Stage and claim maximum bonus points.
“It was a perfect weekend. The first day was tough but after that we increased our gap. The preparation was perfect, everything was as it needed to be,” said Tänak, whose victory rekindled his slim title hopes after a disappointing weekend for frontrunners Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier.
“I will try to win every rally and let’s see where we are at the end of the year,” added the 30-year-old, who closed the gap on leader Neuville to 46 points with four rounds remaining before the season finale at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on 15-18 November.
[Tickets to Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast are available now at www.rallyaustralia.com.au or directly from www.ticketek.com. Until the end of July, the $99 Get Me Everywhere 3-day pass includes a bonus second, identical ticket.]
Østberg fended off a final day charge from Jari-Matti Latvala to deny Toyota a 1-2 finish. The pair started the final Ruuhimäki stage separated by only 2.5sec but the Norwegian held on in an upgraded Citroën C3 to secure his best result for more than three years.
Haydon Paddon grew in confidence as set-up changes improved the handling of his Hyundai i20 and the New Zealander finished fourth, a minute behind Latvala.
World champion Ogier was fifth after struggling with a new aerodynamic package and shock absorbers on his Ford Fiesta. He headed M-Sport Ford teammate Teemu Suninen.
Suninen was ordered to check in late at a time control, incurring a 20sec penalty which dropped him behind Ogier and gave the Frenchman an extra two points in his title bid.
Neuville finished ninth. The Belgian never came to terms with the low-grip Finnish roads from a position high in the start order and an early mistake added to the his woes.
His lead over Ogier was trimmed to 21 points, while Tänak is in third place.
Round nine of the 2018 WRC season will be Rallye Deutschland on 16-19 August, comprising effectively three asphalt rallies in one: twisting roads through Mosel vineyards, the notoriously tough Baumholder military area and fast country lanes of Saarland.
Neste Rally Finland (Rd 8 of 13):
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2h35m18.1s
- Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +32.7s
- Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +35.5s
- Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m35.6s
- Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m15.0s
- Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m19.2s
- Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m29.5s
- Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +3m08.4s
- Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3m51.8s
- Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +8m37.4s
FIA World Rally Championship for drivers (after Rd 8):
- Thierry Neuville 153 points
- Sébastien Ogier 132 points
- Ott Tänak 107 points
- Esapekka Lappi 70 points
- Dani Sordo 60 points
- Andreas Mikkelsen 57 points
- Jari-Matti Latvala 55 points
- Elfyn Evans 52 points
- Mads Ostberg 48 points
- Kris Meeke 43 points
FIA World Rally Championship for manufacturers (after Rd 8):
- Hyundai WRT 228 points
- M-Sport Ford WRT 202 points
- Toyota Gazoo Racing 201 points
- Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 153 points