M-Sport Ford World Rally Team's Ott Tänak showed a blend of speed and maturity over the final day of competition on Rally Finland to claim vital points in sixth place overall.
Encompassing six stages and 139.8 competitive kilometres south-west of the rally base in Jyväskylä, day three of the event was arguably the most challenging yet. Featuring some of Finland's classic stages, with wide roads and fast jumps, the crews then tackled two passes of one of the most daunting stages in the championship – the legendary Ouninpohja - which, run in its entirety for the first time since 2007, made up 20 per cent of the rally's total distance.
With a better road position going into the morning stages, Tänak showed his pace behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC with two top-four stage times. Challenging the front runners, the Estonian was 3.2secs faster than Ford World Rally Team's Petter Solberg on the opening test [SS13] and split the two factory Fords through Leustu 1 [SS14].
The top five times continued for Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk over the second pass, as the 24-year old built his speed throughout the course of each stage. Following a loss of rear-wheel drive for Mads Østberg on SS16, Tänak's speed paid dividends as the Estonian climbed to fifth place, now 2.1secs up on the Norwegian going into the final two tests.
Despite losing out to a resurgent Østberg on the penultimate test, Tänak showed his maturity with a composed drive through the two passes of Ouninpohja, securing sixth place and valuable championship points.
“The rally was quite okay," the Estonian admitted, "It was a bit frustrating in the beginning, but I think that had a lot to do with our starting position. This morning, we just decided we had to push a bit harder – and we did and everything was going well. The first stages went well but, for sure, Ouninpohja is a very difficult stage and I have never been there before so we took it a bit easier just to make sure that everything is okay in the pacenotes. At the moment, sixth place was the maximum we could have achieved, so I am happy with that.”
Elsewhere, disadvantaged by running his Ford Fiesta RS WRC first on the road, team-mate Evgeny Novikov concentrated on maintaining day two's speed and making it to the end of the challenging event. After overshooting some junctions in search of a clean line through the loose gravel on the opening test [SS13], the Russian was back in the top ten stage times through SS14.
Not giving the stages their usual dose of 'maximum attack' so as not to risk further injury to co-driver Denis Giraudet's back, Novikov's composure continued over the afternoon loop. Setting the ninth fastest time through SS15 – 4.6 seconds up on Thierry Neuville, who was recovering from a roll on Friday's stages – the 21-year old climbed another four places in the overall standings.
Taking the two passes of Ouninpohja in his stride, Novikov climbed another 17 places for 36th place overall and gained valuable experience of one of the most challenging tests on the WRC calendar.
“The rally was not so great, but I am satisfied that we are at the finish," he reported, "We got some good experience from all the stages and I feel much more confident and ready for next year.”