Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala has made a great start to his home event and has concluded the opening day top of the Rally Finland leaderboard.
Latvala surged into the lead this evening when he was quickest in the first two tests, establishing an early 5.3 second advantage.
He was then joint quickest with team-mate and nearest rival, Sebastien Ogier in SS3 - the repeat-run through the 23.44 km Lankamaa test - and while he conceded 0.8 seconds in the short Harju super special, he did enough to finish the leg 4.5 seconds up.
Both VW men were aided by the rain today, which lessened the disadvantage of being first into the stages as they then didn't have to sweep away the loose gravel. However with conditions forecast to be dry on Friday, they may have a harder time tomorrow, especially on the first loop.
“What a great start! The rain that came right before the start of the first special stage really helped. Our grip was then much better than expected and there were places where I could even have driven a little faster. But with conditions like these, you never know whether there might be a deep puddle just around the next corner. I really enjoyed driving today all the same, because I felt right at home in my Polo in these conditions. The weather's not so good for the spectators – but it's great for us rally drivers,” Latvala noted.
“It's great to be back in Finland," Ogier added. "The fans, the atmosphere and the stages here are very special. The spectators clearly love this sport, and we drivers can really sense that. The first day went according to plan for me and Julien [Ingrassia - my co-driver]. After the storms, there were a few patches of standing water during the first stage, so we didn't take too many risks. But overall, the rain actually worked in our favour, because our grip on the gravel tracks that had been very dusty and slippery before was then much better than expected.”
Kris Meeke meanwhile is a good third in his Citroen DS3 WRC, currently 4.7 seconds off the duel for the win and 17.2 seconds up on M-Sport's Mikko Hirvonen in fourth.
“I'm pleased to be right in the middle of the fight for first place," Meeke said. "For the time being, my goal is not to try and win stages. I hope I can get to the end of the rally without any problems, whilst staying in touch with the leaders. I feel that I'm improving and things are coming together. The new stages tomorrow are going to be very interesting.”
Hirvonen had been fifth, but moved in front of Juho Hanninen in the final test. Hanninen had been just 0.2 seconds off Meeke after SS2, but haemorrhaged time in SS3 and now lies 0.7 seconds off P4.
“It is very special to be back competing in Finland. We had a reasonable start in SS1 and SS2, focussing on keeping our driving consistent and finding a rhythm in the tough conditions. The repeat of Lankamaa wasn't as good and we encountered some very deep ruts which caught us out a few times," Hanninen explained. "We lost a bit of confidence as a result of that, which was slightly disappointing but overall it's been a decent start and there's still a long way to go. This evening's stage was definitely a nice way to end the first day in front of the spectators!”
Behind, VW Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen is sixth, with Mads Ostberg seventh and not at all happy with his start to the event. The Citroen man said he will make changes to his DS3 WRC in service ahead of day two.
“I was quite happy during the first few kilometres, but the times didn't bear out my feeling in the car," said Ostberg. "We tried to adjust the set-up between each stage without really finding a solution. Obviously, I'm disappointed with today's leg, although I know there's still a long way to go in the rally. We'll just have to work our way up the standings.”
Thierry Neuville, former F1 winner, Robert Kubica and Hayden Paddon hold positions eight through to ten, followed by Martin Prokop, Henning Solberg, Elfyn Evans and Craig Breen. Henning had been eighth, but lost 30 or so seconds in SS3 when he picked up a front right puncture.
“It hasn't been easy because of the weather and the conditions on the stages were a bit more difficult than if it were dry, but I think it has been a good day for us. We had few issues with the up-shifts but that is just the way it is," said Kubica.
“I'm happy with my driving and the pacenotes have been OK but the corrections that I made from the videos to slow down the notes were wrong. When you don't feel comfortable you slow the notes in a tricky place – it's normal when you don't have experience of these roads. But all in all I'm very happy with today and hope that we can continue in the same way tomorrow.”
In WRC2, Jari Ketomaa re-took the lead in the penultimate test of the leg when team-mate Ott Tanak hit a stone and damaged his power steering. Tanak also later had to stop and change a puncture and so in total lost over 4 minutes, dropping him to seventh in class. Ketomaa now heads Karl Kruuda by over 30 seconds. Eyvind Brynildsen is third, 1.2 seconds back.
Rally Finland now continues on Friday with nine stages on the bill in total. Day 2 starts with the 14.51 km Pihlajakoski test, SS5, which is due to start at 09.18 hours local time [07.18 hours UK time].
Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 29m 17.9s M
2. Sebastien Ogier Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 04.5s M
3. Kris Meeke Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 09.1s M
4. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 26.3s M
5. Juho Hanninen Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 27.0s M
6. Andreas Mikkelsen Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +00m 27.1s M
7. Mads Ostberg Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 30.8s M
8. Thierry Neuville Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +00m 38.7s M
9. Robert Kubica RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +00m 52.0s M
10. Hayden Paddon Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +01m 05.9s M
11. Martin Prokop Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 09.3s M
12. Henning Solberg Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 13.7s
13. Elfyn Evans M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 14.7s M
14. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02m 01.0s
15. Jari Ketomaa Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 +02m 13.6s WRC2
WRC2 standings after Stage 4 (Top 3):
1. Jari Ketomaa Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 +31m 31.6s WRC2
2. Karl Kruuda Ford Fiesta S2000 +00m 35.0s WRC2
3. Eyvind Brynildsen Ford Fiesta RRC +00m 36.2s WRC2
SS3. Jarkko Nikara Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road
M denotes Manufacturer entry
all times unofficial