Martin Prokop finally took his first win of the season and the third of his J-WRC career in his Citroen C2 S1600, on the Neste Oil Rally Finland last weekend, the fourth round in the 2008 FIA Junior World Rally Championship.

Prokop enjoyed another closely-fought battle with Michal Kosciuszko, just like in Sardinia back in May, and it was a two-man battle for the majority of the event, as the duo traded stage wins and seconds.

Kosciuszko made a decisive error towards the end of day two though, while leading by 2.7 seconds, and when he went off the road in SS20 and lost almost 2 minutes, it dropped him out of contention.

Prokop subsequently came through to take the maximum ten points by 17.5 seconds: "This win here really gives me a lot of pleasure!" said the Jipocar driver. "We weren't very lucky at the start of the season after we went off the road on the first day in Mexico, and then we had an engine problem that cost me the win in Italy. So this victory is a well-deserved reward for all the hard work put in by everybody at our team.

"Also after our crash here last year, this is wonderful! We made no mistakes and the battle with Kosciuszko was great."

Patrik Sandell meanwhile took the runners-up spot in his Renault Clio and while he tried to keep the pressure on Prokop on the final day, he was never really on the pace of the lead duo.

"We tried to put pressure on Martin today but it was not enough," admitted the Swede. "The gap was too big and the last stage too short.

"We came to Finland to win but after everything that has happened - going in the ditch yesterday and the dust - I'm quite happy with the result as we had some problems at the beginning of the year so everything is starting working and the team-work is better, so I'm happy."

Kosciuszko was next up despite losing all that time in the penultimate stage on Saturday. The result moves the Suzuki man to within 2 points of J-WRC series leader, Sebastien Ogier, although the Frenchman has an event in hand as he wasn't nominated to score points on the '1000 Lakes'.

"It's a little bit disappointing but it is normal when you are fighting so close to make a mistake," stated the Pole. "Six points are not bad and I think I have shown my potential - I'm really happy with my speed here. It will be a tough end to the season but tarmac should be good for me. I think I can still win the Championship and I will fight for it."

Kosciuszko's Suzuki team-mate Jaan Molder, who started the rally with a two-week old broken ankle from a skydiving accident, held fourth for the first two days. The Estonian seemed undeterred as it was 'only his throttle foot' and was more concerned that it had prevented any fitness training since his accident. But an off-road excursion on SS20 stopped him in his tracks, relinquishing fourth to Aaron Burkart.

The German driver had a shaky start, unhappy with his stage times, and gearbox and clutch woes caused problems on day two but he stayed put once in fourth and was happy to take the five points.

Shaun Gallagher found day one difficult as he lacked confidence and couldn't find a rhythm. But day two was a different story as more confidence meant he could attack more. He had a small off-road moment on SS12 which cost 10 seconds but he dominated fifth position for the day, having a private battle with Burkart. Going off-road in SS20 cost him four minutes but he continued trouble-free to finish fifth.

The J-WRC's youngest competitor Kevin Abbring enjoyed the rally, driving with an aim to finish to gain experience. He made a cautious start and was able to pick up his speed on the second loops of stages but an off-road excursion bent his steering on SS12 which meant he dropped time on the following stages, costing about a minute in total. A slow puncture five kilometres before the finish of SS18 cost another 40 seconds. But the Dutch 19-year-old was ecstatic to score his first J-WRC points for sixth. He also scored maximum points as first finishing ASN driver for the Dutch KNAF which now trails the French FFSA by only four points.

Gilles Schammel drove safely on day one to stay on the road but struggled a little with confidence and couldn't find a rhythm. A broken gearbox mount on SS13 made life difficult. The problem was solved in service but powershift and brake problems affected him later. A puncture on SS22 made progress difficult on the final day and he held position to finish seventh.

After rolling out of the rally last year, Hans Weijs Jr. wanted to keep the car on the road. A heavy landing loosened the radiator on SS5 and his first day didn't get any better as a failed intercom caused problems on SS10. He went off the road on the first stage of day two bending the steering and taking on board a puncture, which cost three minutes to change and he had clutch problems for the last group of stages of the day. But he took the last point for eighth, scored maximum points for the first finishing Rookie driver and added eight points to the ASN total for KNAF Talent First Team Holland.

On the fourth WRC event of his career, Florian Niegel enjoyed his first Finnish rally and ran trouble-free throughout. Driving a Group N2 car, and leading the class for much of the rally, he struggled with a lack of power against his J-WRC colleagues, but he finished a respectable ninth, also scoring eight points for the Rookie standings.

Simone Bertolotti completed the top ten, while Milos Komljenovic was eleventh followed by Francesco Fanari, who missed Friday's stages due to a broken gearbox, and Stefano Albertini.

"Had I not lost so much time by having to start Saturday under the Super Rally system, I would obviously have been in a better finishing position," Fanari pointed out. "But the C2-R2 MAX thoroughly demonstrated its capabilities on this event, which gives me a lot of confidence for the future."

Three JWRC runners failed to finish and in addition to Molder, Alessandro Bettega and Kalle Pinomaki both had problems and went out on day 2, the former with a broken oil sump and the latter with gearbox problems.

Andrea Cortinovis did not start the event after his driving license was taken by the local police for speeding on the road section during the reconnaissance.

J-WRC leader Ogier, who chose not to nominate Finland to score points, drove it for experience but in a Citro?n C2-R2 rather than is his usual C2 S1600. The Frenchman finished 36th overall and to compare his result with his other J-WRC colleagues, he finished just behind Schammel, in P7.

The Junior World Rally Championship now continues with the Rallye Deutschland and this time it will be the turn of Kosciuszko, Molder, Sandell and Komljenovic to sit out proceedings.


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