Hyundai’s Ott Tanak kept his cool under increasing pressure from Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi to hold a slim lead after Friday’s frenetic opening leg of Rally Finland, the fastest event on the FIA World Rally Championship calendar.
Estonian Tanak – twice a winner of this classic gravel fixture – snatched the top spot from early leader and Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville on Friday’s very first stage and clung on to the position all day long.
Setup frustrations threatened to rattle Tanak’s confidence, especially during the first half of the leg on stages to the north of host city Jyvaskyla. But thanks to his on-the-limit approach, the i20 N Rally 1 driver maintained his pace to head local driver Lappi’s GR Yaris Rally1 by 6.2s at the day’s midpoint.
Lappi – also a former Rally Finland winner, back in 2017 – responded by cranking up the pressure in the afternoon. He stormed to three stage wins in the final loop to whittle down the deficit, but was still unable to overturn the charging leader. At the overnight halt, Tanak held the upper hand by a slender 3.8s.
“It’s definitely a lot better than we expected,” said Tanak. “We definitely did not expect to be in the fight, so to end the day in this position is really positive. “The other boys were quite slow to wake up, but it seems the Toyotas are slowly getting to where they should be.
“Let’s see tomorrow,” he added. “The weather will probably change a bit as well, but I would say I was on the limit from the first corner of the first stage.”
Last year’s winner, Elfyn Evans, was slow out of the blocks, but held on to third overall in his GR Yaris. He arrived back to the final service 12.2s down on Lappi and was embroiled in a tight scrap with another Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate, Kalle Rovanpera, who finished just 1.7s behind.
Rovanpera paid the penalty for being first on the road, but can look forward to letting someone else do the sweeping tomorrow. Image by Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
As the WRC points leader, Rovanpera was first car on the road and struggled to find traction in some of the loose gravel sections, which resulted in some hairy moments. The 21-year-old Finn will begin Saturday with a more favorable starting position, rather than playing “road sweeper” again, and promised a big push on his home stages.
M-Sport Ford’s leading driver, Craig Breen, ended the day more than a half minute back from the lead in fifth overall. An intercom problem in the opening stage was a minor cause for frustration and the Puma Rally1 driver was at a loss as to why he didn’t have the pace to challenge for stage wins. Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta was just 3.9s further back in another GR Yaris.
Breen will be looking for a reset on Saturday after lacking both pace and, briefly, an intercom on day one. Image via M-Sport Media.
A frustrated Neuville brought his Hyundai home in seventh overall. Like Tanak, the Belgian was unhappy with his setup and struggled to keep the rear end of the car under control in the endless fast, sweeping corners.
M-Sport youngsters Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith were eighth and ninth overall, but Jari Huttunen’s top-tier debut turned sour when his Puma developed a fuel-pressure issue late in the day, dropping him well down the order. Teammate Adrien Fourmaux was also in trouble and suffered a damaged driveshaft, followed by power steering failure, which cost almost 20 minutes early in the day.
Oliver Solberg was Friday’s big casualty, the Hyundai junior rolling his i20 N on the very first corner of the day’s first stage. Roll cage damage means he will not continue.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Teemu Suninen put on a dominant display in front of his home fans to end Friday’s opening leg with a comfortable class lead.
Suninen is searching for his first win of the season in the WRC’s premier support category and made his intentions clear on the first full day of action in Finland’s flowing forests.
The Hyundai i20 N Rally2 driver posted benchmark times on seven of the day’s nine special stages (down from 10 after the cancellation of the day’s fifth test) and arrived back in Jyvaskyla with a solid 19.4s advantage over nearest challenger and fellow Finn Emil Lindholm, as well as holding 10th overall.
Suninen is off to a flying start in WRC2. Image via Red Bull Content Pool
Saturday’s eight stages are clustered around the town of Jamsa and, with 93.4 miles of relentless action, comprise almost half of Rally Finland’s competitive distance.
WRC Rally Finland, leading positions after Day One, SS10
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 50m41.2s
2 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3.8s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +19.3s
4 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +21.0s
5 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +32.5s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +35.5s
7 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +50.2s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +1m00.9s
9 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +1m02.6s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N Rally2 – WRC2 leader) +2m59.9s
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