31 July-03 August, Jyvaskyla
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
2. Sébastien Ogier
3. Kris Meeke
4. Andreas Mikkelsen
5. Mikko Hirvonen
FINLAND CELEBRATED ON SUNDAY AFTERNOON AS JARI-MATTI LATVALA KEPT HIS NERVE TO CLAIM A THRILLING FIRST HOME VICTORY AT THE COUNTRY’S FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP ENCOUNTER FOR FOUR YEARS.
Latvala dominated most of the four-day Neste Oil Rally Finland but a brake problem yesterday evening threw his win into doubt. However, he held off a determined charge from Volkswagen team-mate Sébastien Ogier to win by 3.6sec.
Latvala, conscious of the lack of home success in a country where rallying is a national sport, said he was motivated to fend off Ogier by the support from his fans. He was embraced by father Jari after finishing the final Ruuhimäki special stage.
“It was so hard to take this victory,” he said. “I had a fantastic feeling with the driving but when I had the brake problem yesterday I was in a difficult position. I was so close to losing the victory but I fought back. I was nervous today but managed to hold it together.”
Latvala won 13 of the opening 19 stages to build a 31sec lead over the first three days but broke the front right brake caliper on his Polo R when he hit a large hole. Ogier, who had earlier conceded victory, seized his chance and slashed the margin to under four seconds.
But with the Finn’s car restored to health today, Ogier had to settle for second. The Frenchman gained maximum bonus points by winning the live TV Power Stage and heads Latvala by 44 points in the title battle with five rounds remaining.
Kris Meeke drove perhaps the best rally of his career to take third in a Citroen DS3. It was the third podium of the season for the Northern Irishman.
“A podium is pretty special on the biggest rally of all. But we’re still not near perfection yet. Jari-Matti was the epitome of perfection all weekend in how to drive a rally car on these roads. Until I get there and try to win this rally some day, we’ll have to keep trying for perfection,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen retained third in the championship by finishing fourth in another Polo R but the Norwegian was more than a minute adrift of Meeke. Mikko Hirvonen finished fifth in a Fiesta RS after a frustrating weekend for the former winner.
Power steering problems today deprived Kiwi Hayden Paddon of sixth. He slipped behind both Hyundai team-mate Juho Hänninen, who bounced back from a second day roll, and Elfyn Evans. Henning Solberg and Karl Kruuda completed the leaderboard.
Craig Breen was today’s only major retirement. A heavy landing over a big jump in the first pass through Ruuhimäki left him with severe back pain and he withdrew.
Kruuda claimed WRC 2 victory while prize drive winner Teemu Suninen, wrc.com’s pre-event One to Watch, took WRC 3 honours. Martin Koci won the JWRC category.