Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala was in dominant form this morning on Rally Finland winning four of the five stages to increase his lead to almost 30 seconds.
Latvala had stretched his advantage from 8.4 seconds to 19.7 seconds on Friday afternoon and the Finn continued to push today on the first loop, taking his stage win tally to 12 from a possible 18. The only test he wasn't quickest in was the short 4.45 km Himos 1 test, but even then he was only 0.8 seconds off team-mate, Sebastien Ogier, who has now moved back up into P2.
“I am very, very happy with my morning,” said Latvala after SS18. “It has been really good. I have been really enjoying it.”
Ogier in contrast was less happy and has seemingly decided to settle for second, mindful no doubt of the situation in the Drivers' Championship. He currently has a 50-point lead.
“I tried [to close up] but I made a lot of small mistakes,” admitted the defending WRC Champion. “It must be on the brake points. I struggle to brake at the right points. I'm braking too early and too late.
"No big drama though, and this afternoon it will be quite rough and so different stages. 30 seconds to Jari in Finland is quite a lot, however, you would have to be crazy... it would be stupid to push like hell to try and catch him with that gap.”
Kris Meeke meanwhile remains on course for a podium in his Citroen DS3 WRC car, 13.5 seconds off Ogier and 36.5 seconds up on Volkswagen Motorsport II man Andreas Mikkelsen in fourth.
“I had a big moment in SS17,” Meeke noted. “I tried to get back into my rhythm in SS18 and hold position and get back to service. I've always been slow in Leustu, I have to find something in there but that will be [for] next year.”
“We have had a good morning,” added Mikkelsen. "We're trying to push but nothing too much. We are keeping the car in line and not making stuff too difficult. It's a long afternoon and it will be quite rough with [a risk of] punctures.”
Mikkelsen had been just 1.2 seconds up on Mads Ostberg last night and Ostberg in turn was just 1.9 ahead of Mikko Hirvonen. However all three are now much more spaced out, with Ostberg 8.4 seconds off P4 and 15.2 seconds up on Hirvonen in P6.
“There's not so much more I can do,” Ostberg noted. “I felt like I got this stage [SS18] together but I hit a big rock in the braking line and I slowed as I thought I had a puncture, but we didn't. We were unlucky to hit the rock but lucky not to puncture as the impact was massive.”
“Nothing is wrong,” Hirvonen continued. “The morning is done and not as good as I was hoping. I am not too far behind yet. We have to go to service now and it will be more of a reset for me than the car.”
Further back, Hayden Paddon is the lead Hyundai in seventh, 1.5 minutes off P6, and 30.2 seconds up on team-mate, Juho Hanninen in eighth. Hanninen gained a place in SS18, with M-Sport man and Crash.net
columnist Elfyn Evans dropping to ninth. Craig Breen rounds out the top ten, one place ahead of Henning Solberg.
In WRC2, Karl Kruuda inherited the lead in SS16 when Jari Ketomaa had to stop and change a puncture after he cut a corner too much and hit some rocks. Ketomaa lost over 3 minutes, and now lies second – 2 minutes 34.2 seconds off Kruuda. Ott Tanak completes the top three, after Sebastien Chardonnet went out in Surkee 1.
Rally Finland now continues this afternoon with a repeat-run through all five of this morning's tests.
SS19, the second-run through the 13.84 kilometre Mokkipera test, is due to start at 15.20 hours local time [13.20 hours UK time].
Rally Finland: Overall standings after Stage 18 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2hours 07mins 35.7secs
2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +00m 29.9s
3. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +00m 43.4s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +01m 19.9s
5. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS3 WRC +01m 28.3s
6. Mikko Hirvonen
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01m 43.5s
7. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +03m 15.5s
8. Juho Hanninen
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +03m 45.7s
9. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +03m 46.6s
10. Craig Breen
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07m 26.9s
11. Henning Solberg
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +08m 49.0s
12. Karl Kruuda
Ford Fiesta S2000 +10m 09.7s
13. Jari Ketomaa
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 +12m 44.0s
14. Ott Tanak
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 +14mins 17.8s
WRC2 standings after Stage 18 (Top 3):
1. Karl Kruuda
Ford Fiesta S2000 2 hours 17m 45.4s
2. Jari Ketomaa
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 +02mins 34.3s
3. Ott Tanak
Drive DMACK Ford Fiesta R5 +04mins 08.1s
SS3. Jarkko Nikara
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road
SS5. Robert Kubica
RK M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Went off the road
SS6. Oleksiy Kikireshko
Ford Fiesta R5 Accident
SS8/9. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Accident
SS9. Michal Solowow
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Mechanical
SS11. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC Lost a wheel
SS16. Sebastien Chardonnet
Citroen DS3 R5 Retired
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started under Rally 2 on Saturday
all times unofficial