With Sebastien Ogier
comfortably half a minute down the road and heading inexorably to his fifth WRC win of the year, the focus of interest on the final day of the Neste Oil Rally Finland was unquestionably the heated battle for second place between Qatar WRT's Thierry Neuville and his Ford Fiesta RS stable mate Mads Ostberg.
Neuville had taken the overnight lead at the end of the first day, but a puncture on Friday dropped him 30 seconds off Ogier. With Ostberg also suffering a deflated left front tyre as a result of a broken rim on SS14, it left the pair neck-and-neck going into the final day.
In the end, the battle came down to the second and final run through Ouninpohja in the afternoon, with just a tenth of a second separating the pair going into the 33km stage.
"On the start line I was a little nervous"," Neuville admitted. "I could see Mads going into the stage in front of me and he was very fast into the first corner. I could see he was pushing and I had no choice."
Ostberg paid for his pace when he was forced to run off the road to avoid hitting a rock that could have ended his race outright. The detour cost him 20 seconds and meant that Neuville went into the final stage of the rally with a comfortable safety margin.
“I was particularly happy with my run through Ouninpohja. It would have been nice to have taken the record, but the second place was most important and we decided to let Sebastien have that one," he laughed. "We did it and we are here. It's a shame [Mads] had the stone [in Ouninpohja], I saw it as well. We had the same speed, but it went right for me.
"The M-Sport team did a fantastic job," he said, summing up his and Ostberg's efforts. "To be beating the Finns here is not easy so to have two cars on the podium is a real achievement."
Even as battle raged over second place, Neuville was realistic about knowing that the race win was out of his reach unless Sebastien Ogier
had suffered some sort of calamity.
"I was not thinking about the win. I knew Seb would be very strong and nearly impossible to beat," he insisted.
He did however have the last word of the rally when he managed to pip the championship leader for the top time in the SS23 power stage through Painaa.