Jari Ketomaa has secured a place in history after winning the first FIA European Rally Championship event to take place in Latvia.
The Finn's success on Rally Liepāja-Ventspils followed three days of thrilling high-speed competition on ice and snow-coated roads between the two Baltic cities.
While Ketomaa excelled alongside Kimi Räikkönen's former co-driver Kaj Lindström in a Ford Fiesta RRC, there were standout performances too from Peugeot 207 Super 2000-driving Irishman Craig Breen, who finished second, and third-placed François Delecour.
The Frenchman secured the final podium place in another Peugeot after a close battle with Russian Alexey Lukyanuk.
Lukyanuk, who was leading the ERC Production Car Cup, was 1.7s behind Delecour with two stages left when a brush with a snowbank damaged his car's oil cooler and forced him to retire. However, Lukyanuk was chosen as the recipient of the Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy, while multiple Baltic and Lithuanian champion Vytautas Švedas inherited the showroom category laurels in a similar Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X.
There was also success for Finland in the ERC 2WD Championship with Risto Immonen claiming victory in a Citroën C2 R2 Max after long-term leader Stéphane Lefebvre dropped down to second on the final morning when a gearbox issue slowed his Peugeot 208 R2. Nevertheless it was a hugely impressive showing by the young Frenchman, who had never competed on snow or ice.
Ketomaa had trailed Breen over the opening five stages but moved in front on stage six when the additional top-end speed of his turbocharged engine told on the super-fast roads. Breen remained in contention until stage 12 when a minor electrical glitch cost him precious time and prompted him to settle for a strong second place.
“I'm really happy with this result after two years of bad luck,” said Ketomaa, who moves to the top of the ERC drivers' standings following his triumph. “We didn't want to take any risks and knew that we would settle into a rhythm after the first day. The feeling was really good and the conditions on the rally were extreme with very high speeds and lots of frozen gravel. But we never stopped believing in the work we could do and the team has done a great job.”
Despite losing out on top spot, Breen was more than satisfied with second on his first of eight planned ERC appearances with the Peugeot Rally Academy-Saintéloc team.
“I'm overwhelmed to even have been in contention for victory,” he said. “I came here to finish on the podium and that's exactly what I've done. I wasn't pushing over the top, the wins will come this season.”