Jari-Matti Latvala put on a massive performance to win his third Rally Finland in what was the fastest ever WRC event. But he didn’t have it all his own way
Jari-Matti Latvala won the fastest event in FIA World Rally Championship history when he claimed his third victory at Neste Oil Rally Finland on Sunday afternoon.
The Finn triumphed in an event affectionately known as the ‘Finnish Grand Prix’ at a remarkable average of 125.44kph, eclipsing the previous best of 122.89kph set at the same rally in 2012 by Sébastien Loeb.
Latvala headed Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Sébastien Ogier by 13.7sec after a thrilling duel over rollercoaster gravel roads near Jyväskylä. The win, his second of the season and 14th of his career, promoted Latvala to second in the championship behind Ogier.
Ogier and Kris Meeke both led before Latvala moved to the front midway through Friday. But Ogier refused to allow the Flying Finn to break clear by more than a handful of seconds, and only when he took a chunk out of a wheel against a rock on Saturday afternoon could Latvala breathe more easily.
“This was one of the greatest drives of my life,” said a delighted Latvala, who was greeted at the end of the final stage by father Jari. “I’m proud to be a Finn today. I’ve had a tough season but winning my home event is like winning half a world championship.
“I’ve focused fully on this rally for three weeks. After my disappointment at the last round in Poland, I decided my title hopes had gone and concentrated fully on preparing for Finland. It paid off today,” he added.
Ogier, who took the maximum three bonus points by winning the final live TV Power Stage, extended his championship lead to 89 points and could clinch a third title at ADAC Rallye Deutschland later this month.
Østberg collected his third podium of the season
“It was an amazing battle and the show we delivered this weekend was fantastic for the sport. I have no problem being beaten by Jari-Matti when he is this strong,” he said.
Citroën’s Mads Østberg secured his third podium of the season in third, 1min 23.1sec behind Ogier. The Norwegian inherited the place when team-mate Kris Meeke broke his car’s suspension yesterday after hitting a tree.
Thierry Neuville finished fourth in a Hyundai i20, a feat that seemed impossible shortly before Thursday’s start when his team faced a race to rebuild the car after the Belgian crashed heavily in the warm-up stage.
Fifth went to Ott Tänak, who recovered well after driving most of Friday with a broken damper on his Ford Fiesta RS after clipping a rock. Juho Hänninen completed the top six in another Fiesta RS.
Martin Prokop was seventh and headed WRC 2 winner and runner-up Esapekka Lappi and Pontus Tidemand, with Lorenzo Bertelli taking his first point of the season in 10th.
The first pure asphalt round of the season comes next, when Trier hosts ADAC Rallye Deutschland on 20 – 23 August.
Esapekka Lappi took his second consecutive WRC 2 victory at Neste Oil Rally Finland on Sunday afternoon to move into the championship lead.
The Finn, who won in Poland last month, dominated this eighth round of the season in a Skoda Fabia R5. He took the lead on Friday morning and built a strong advantage over team-mate Pontus Tidemand.
The pair measured their pace through the final two legs, with Lappi heading his Swedish colleague by 1min 41.0sec after 20 rollercoaster gravel stages covering 320km. It gave him a three-point lead over Jari Ketomaa, who missed the rally with an eye injury.
“I’m the happiest man here!” said Lappi. “Like in Poland it went exactly to plan. The only target was to push a bit on Friday and see how it goes. The others couldn’t match our speed and we were able to cruise to the finish. Okay, perhaps not cruise, but we certainly enjoyed the stages a bit more.”
Citroën’s Stéphane Lefebvre scored his best result since winning the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo in third. The Frenchman, who led after Thursday’s first stage, finished 1min 50.5sec behind Tidemand.
Ukraine’s Yurii Protasov was fourth in a Ford Fiesta RRC, with Australian champion Scott Pedder claiming a career-best result in fifth and Anders Grøndal completing the top six.
It proved a rally of attrition and among the top drivers to retire were Jarkko Nikara (engine), Craig Breen (engine), Eyvind Brynildsen (punctures), Nicolas Fuchs (steering), and Valeriy Gorban (crash)
In the Production Cup category within WRC 2, Max Rendina finished more than 10 minutes clear of Gianluca Linari, with Alain Foulon in third. Linari retained the championship lead.