for Rally Finland leaderboard after day 2, SS20
Britain's Kris Meeke remains firmly in control on Rally Finland following Saturday afternoon's repeat loop, now 41secs up on Jari-Matti Latvala.
Meeke extended his overnight lead from 18.1secs to 36.4secs this morning, winning two more stages in his Abu Dhabi WRT-run Citroen DS3 WRC, including posting a storming time in the legendary Ouninpohja, 13.4secs up on Latvala.
The Ulsterman was similarly quick on the repeat-run through Ouninpohja this afternoon, beating the Finn by 5.8secs, before going fastest again in SS18, although this time only 0.1secs separated him and the lead Volkswagen.
Meeke was slightly slower in the next two stages, 'only' fourth in SS19 and sixth in the short 4.23 km Saalahti 2 test (SS20), but will still go into Sunday's leg with a comfortable advantage.
“This morning I didn't think I could go faster [in Ouninpohja] - but this time I knew where I was going! I'm delighted. I couldn't have done any more,” Meeke told the official WRC site after SS17.
Speaking later, he added: “Today has been exceptional. Yesterday was one of the best days I've had in a rally car and today has surpassed that.
“I don't know where I go from here! We have a job to do tomorrow – play it safe and try to bring it home.”
Meanwhile, Latvala revealed he had a bit of scare in Paijala 2: “I gave it a really good push [in SS18]. I had a good feeling, but in one place I thought I could go faster and we landed right on the side of a ditch - we had found the limit…”
Behind, Meeke's team-mate Craig Breen continues to hold a fantastic third, having started the day down in P5, although the Irishman is coming under increased pressure from DMACK WRT man Ott Tanak, the Estonian slashing the gap from 25.2secs after the morning loop to 9.1secs post-SS20.
Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Hayden Paddon have slipped back a bit from that fight, 6.4secs adrift, and split by just 2.7secs.
“All in all it's been a decent day. We have done the maximum we could do, and we're involved in a nice, close fight with Hayden,” Neuville said.
“I didn't really feel comfortable at the start of the morning loop but we have tried to make improvements to the car throughout the day. We were hoping to gain more confidence in the afternoon but it wasn't easy.
“Still, we are in a very close battle and the gaps are so small that it won't take much for us to suddenly be back in podium contention. We just have to keep focused on our job and hope that we have a trouble-free Sunday morning.”
“We started the day feeling more confident. It was certainly a better morning loop than we had yesterday,” Paddon added.
“We made some changes to the car balance, adjusting some suspension settings, and it was more to my liking. Of course, we were second on the road so we were sweeping on the morning stages, which didn't help.
“We were preparing for a good fight in the afternoon but we weren't able to find the speed we were expecting. It was difficult to pinpoint why we were losing the time because I couldn't have driven any faster. We'll sit down with the team, do some homework and try to sort things out. I can't be too negative - we get to drive a WRC car on these amazing Finnish stages and that's special.”
Further back, M-Sport's Mads Ostberg holds seventh, only 2.4secs off P6, with VW Motorsport II man Andreas Mikkelsen losing out due to his road position and after an off in SS14 this morning. He is now 18secs adrift.
“We've been fighting really hard today – you never give up in Finland because anything can happen. I can't believe how close it is,” Ostberg remarked.
“At the moment we are in seventh position, but the gap to the podium is actually relatively small. Even though it's just a short day tomorrow, we have to keep pushing and keep the pressure on. We never give up.”
WRC2 class leader Esapekka Lappi holds ninth, 46.9secs up on class rival, Teemu Suinen in P10.
Kevin Abbring, standing in for the injured Dani Sordo, has dropped outside the top-ten in the Hyundai N entry, losing time this afternoon with a few mechanical issues.
“We have just continued to acclimatise to the New Generation i20 WRC again on today's stages. We've had to find the best compromise between finding speed and staying cautious,” Abbring said.
“When you see people in front of you go off, as happened this morning, you're reminded to take things carefully. To be in Finland for the first time in a four wheel drive car, it's not realistic to be on the pace immediately. It's the first time I drive this car competitively too, so we've been making changes on each stage to get a better understanding.
“We [also] had an issue on this afternoon's loop when we lost the paddleshift. The car was misfiring with the mechanical lever too, so we had to drive around that. Our aim is still the top-ten, and we have four stages to achieve that tomorrow.”
Of the rest, Championship leader Sebastien Ogier is now 31st having started the day in 53rd position after he got stuck in a ditch on Friday in SS10 and lost over 15 minutes. Ogier also picked up 2mins 10secs in penalties this morning after he was late starting SS14 due to a brake problem.
As for retirements, in contrast to the first loop when Lorenzo Bertelli and M-Sport's Eric Camilli crashed heavily in SS13 and SS14 respectively, there were no more major casualties this afternoon.
Rally Finland now concludes on Sunday with 33.96 competitive kilometres on the bill. A loop of two stages – Lempaa (6.83km) and Oittila (10.15km) – will be run twice. SS21, Lempaa 1, is due to start at 08.28 hours local time [06.28 hours UK time].