Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala delivered in front of his home fans and took an emotional victory on Rally Finland on Sunday.
It was Latvala's third WRC win of the season and his second on the '1000 Lakes Rally', as it use to be known. The result also means Volkswagen stretches its unbroken run of WRC triumphs to twelve.
Latvala went into the final test just 3.7 seconds up on team-mate Sebastien Ogier and that proved enough to give him the victory.
"It was really, really hard to get this victory but it was a brilliant performance and this is such a great feeling,” Latvala told the events official website. “Everything was going perfectly and I had a fantastic feeling but then the problems yesterday put us in a difficult position and I almost lost it. But we really fought back.”
Latvala stamped his authority on the eighth round in the 2014 World Rally Championship right from the outset and after topping the times in the shakedown, won three of the four stages on the opening day to build an early 4.5 second lead over Ogier.
Latvala then extended that cushion further on Friday, initially eking it out to 8.4 seconds on the first loop, before pulling away and more than doubling it in the afternoon.
The 29-year-old then took four stage wins out of five on Saturday morning to stretch his advantage to almost 30 seconds. That buffer proved vital in the afternoon, when he hit a large pothole and damaged his brakes in SS20 allowing Ogier to close right in and leaving the two split by just 3.4 seconds ahead of the final leg.
Latvala took his 14th stage win of the event in SS24 on Sunday morning, and despite intercom problems in SS25 – the penultimate test of the event – still set the second best time. He then came through the Power Stage to claim the event victory and take two bonus points after setting the second best time.
Ogier meanwhile seemingly opted to settle for second - thinking about the bigger picture and defending his Championship lead, although he still won twelve stages, including the Power Stage. The Frenchman had a 50-point advantage coming into the event and now remains more than 40 points ahead with five events left.
“I have had so much pleasure driving on these roads,” said the reigning World Champion. “I knew victory would be gone unless Jari made a mistake because it was impossible to make a difference. He was stronger than me but second is still fantastic after a great fight.”
Britain's Kris Meeke took third and was the only one anywhere near the top-two throughout the four days. He also held second on Friday, but slipped back behind Ogier on Saturday morning and eventually finished more than 40 seconds back in his Citroen DS3 WRC. It was Meeke's third podium of the year.
“A podium is pretty special on one of the biggest rallies of them all,” said Meeke. “Third will do but I'm still not near perfection. Jari-Matti has been the epitome of perfection in how to drive a rally car on these roads so I have to keep trying for perfection.”
Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth, one minute further adrift, but he was still pleased with his performance, even if he didn't have the pace this time to match his two team-mates.
"I knew this would be tougher than Poland [the last event]. I'm happy with my fourth place though and holding my position in the championship," noted the Norwegian.
Mikko Hirvonen rounded out the top five after rather disappointing performance from the M-Sport WRT man. Hirvonen had hoped to challenge for a podium, but never looked likely to really achieve that: “It's been a tough weekend,” he conceded.
Juho Hanninen was the lead Hyundai driver in sixth, looking very strong early on in his i20 WRC until he rolled it in SS6 and lost over a minute. The Finn dropped to eleventh but battled his way back into the points.
“I made a mistake and it cost us,” Hanninen noted. “For us the starting position yesterday was not that good. It's what happens when you try to go fast and get a good result. We will know better in the future.”
Team-mate Hayden Paddon was on course to finish ahead of Hanninen in P6, but power steering problems on the final day dropped the New Zealander back to eighth, leaving M-Sport's Elfyn Evans sandwiched in between.
“It's been a rally of fantastic highs and excitement and quite a lot of frustration as well. It's a fantastic to experience it in a World Rally car. An incredible event, it's good to be here at the finish. It got better and better as the weekend went on,” Evans reflected.
Behind, Henning Solberg was slowed by a number of punctures but still managed to take two points in ninth. He is due out next in the WRC in France in October.
WRC2 class winner Karl Kruuda came in tenth overall, more than two minutes up on Jari Ketomaa. Ketomaa had led the class until he had to stop and change a puncture in SS16 on Saturday morning. Ott Tanak took the final podium position, taking a string of WRC2 stage wins, but on the backfoot after losing 4 minutes on Thursday when he lost the power steering and had a puncture in SS3.
In terms of retirements, Craig Breen had to withdraw from the event on Sunday morning after injuring his back in a heavy landing. He had been running ninth in his Fiesta RS WRC car.
Other notable non-finishers were Citroen's Mads Ostberg, Ford privateer Martin Prokop and Hyundai's Thierry Neuville. Ostberg went out on Saturday after damaging the rollcage on his DS3 WRC car in SS18. Prokop crashed out on Friday in SS11 and was unable to re-join, while Neuville also went out on day two, after he damaged the roll cage in the morning.
Robert Kubica crashed out in SS5, but was able to return on Saturday under Rally 2, finishing outside the top 30.
The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship now continues with Rally Deutschland in a few weeks time, running from August 21-24.
To view the result for Rally Finland 2014 - CLICK HERE