With the Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC working at one with the Finnish roads, M-Sport had hoped to capitalise on their championship challenge. Unfortunately, the team’s plans were somewhat disrupted when both Sébastien Ogier and Ott Tänak fell foul of the region’s fearsome forests this morning.
Holding a one-two during the early stages of this year’s Neste Rally Finland, M-Sport had every right to be hopeful of a positive result – that is until the first pass of Jukojärvi (SS4) when an impact with a rock cost rally leader Tänak more than 90 seconds. Shortly after that, Ogier also suffered – damaging the rear suspension and being forced to retire for the day.
Despite the missed opportunity, Elfyn Evans is going strongly ahead of the team’s main rivals in seventh place with Tänak quickly gaining ground. Ogier also plans to restart under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow.
The real star of the day however was young Finn Teemu Suninen. On what is only his second event behind the wheel of a World Rally Car, the 23-year-old currently sits in podium position.
Posting a number of highly competitive times – including two fastest times – Suninen and co-driver Mikko Markkula are in third place and just 19 seconds adrift of the lead with two more challenging days left to contest.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“It’s fair to say that this is the most difficult day that we’ve had so far this season. Looking at the pace that both Ott and Sébastien had in the early stages, we had a chance of fighting for the win and it’s certainly been something of a missed opportunity.
“That said, we’ve got Elfyn and Ott both fighting back through the top-ten and there is still a very long way to go. The aim will now be to secure as many championship points as possible.
“Thanks to a great performance from the latest up-and-coming young Finn, there is still a Fiesta in a podium position – Teemu delivering a fantastic performance in third place.
“I’ve worked with a lot of Finns over the years and I have to say that his performance has impressed me the most. This is only his second rally at the highest level and when you consider his age and his limited experience it’s incredible.”
SUNINEN AND MARKKULA
This year’s Rally Finland is a true Finnish affair with the top-three positions occupied by Finnish crews. Teemu Suninen and Mikko Markkula currently form an integral part of the local fans’ delight in a fine third place overall.
Claiming two stage victories and a string of highly competitive top-three stage times, Suninen continues to impress just 19 seconds adrift of the lead on what is considered one of FIA World Rally Championship’s most formidable events.
Improving his performance with each new kilometre, Suninen has proved a quick learner and will be keen to show further improvements as the event continues.
SS1: 12th (+5.4)
SS3: 3rd (+0.4)
SS4: 4th (+6.4)
SS5: =4th (+0.7)
SS6: 7th (+3.4)
SS7: 5th (+5.6)
SS9: 3rd (+1.9)
SS10: 2nd (+0.7)
SS11: 2nd (+0.4)
SS12: 5th (+3.9)
SS13: 6th (+1.2)
Teemu Suninen (3rd) said:
“I’m very happy to be sitting in third place today. This is my home rally and only my second time in a world rally car so it is special for sure. The Finnish fans have been amazing as always and I want to thank all of them for their support.
“I think we have driven well today and shown good pace with no mistakes, but there are still things to improve. I need to be more consistent and more precise with the driving lines as that is what brings the good times here with these cars.
“I would say that my main strength is that I seem to be improving quite quickly. Hopefully we can continue that and someday be fighting for the victory myself. That is not the objective this weekend – I just want to focus on myself and forget about my Finnish friends ahead.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt may have missed their pre-event test, but the Brits are currently in seventh place overall and just 26.1 seconds adrift of the podium positions.
Having to discover the optimum set-up through the stages, the pairing struggled with understeer but remained calm under pressure – posting a string of consistent times to keep the team’s main rivals behind them.
SS1: 9th (+3.1)
SS2: 10th (+2.3)
SS3: 8th (+3.5)
SS4: 8th (+9.0)
SS5: 9th (+2.1)
SS6: 9th (+4.7)
SS7: 4th (+5.4)
SS8: 8th (+2.9)
SS9: 10th (+9.4)
SS10: 6th (+5.1)
SS11: 7th (+2.5)
SS12: 8th (+5.6)
SS13: 4th (+1.0)
Elfyn Evans (7th) said:
“With no pre-event test we’ve had to discover the optimum set-up out on the stages. I was struggling with understeer throughout much of the morning and that hampered our confidence. On these roads – and at these speeds – that confidence makes all the difference.
“That said, we’re in seventh position with some very close gaps ahead. There’s still a long way to go so let’s see what tomorrow brings.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Early indications suggested the Ott Tänak’s speed would be something to be reckoned with at this weekend’s Rally Finland.
Posting the fastest time through yesterday’s opener, the Estonian led the event for the first three stages before being caught out through the first pass of Jukojärvi (SS4).
Running slightly wide at the start of the stage, Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja clipped a rock on the side of the road – damaging the wheel and picking up a puncture which would prove detrimental to their hopes of victory.
Losing more than 90 seconds, the pairing fell outside of the top-ten but kept their heads down and mounted an impressive comeback given the circumstances.
Time is notoriously difficult to claw back at the speeds Rally Finland is famed for, but Tänak did just that. Having fallen 60 seconds behind Dani Sordo, the Estonian ended the day 2.3 seconds ahead of his rival.
SS2: =6th (+0.9)
SS3: 5th (+1.4)
SS4: 32nd (+1:36.0)
SS5: =6th (+0.9)
SS6: 2nd (+1.8)
SS7: 9th (+6.9)
SS8: 5th (+1.2)
SS9: 5th (+4.0)
SS10: 5th (+4.2)
SS11: 3rd (+0.7)
SS12: 4th (+3.6)
SS13: 2nd (+0.1)
Ott Tänak (10th) said:
“The disappointment came early in the day so after that we just had to keep going. We ran slightly wide at the start of SS4 and picked up a puncture. We lost more than one and a half minutes which obviously ended our hopes of challenging for the victory. At these speeds the gaps are so close, and it is very difficult to make up the time.
“Since then, we’ve just been focused on driving cleanly. There is still motivation as it’s important for the team that we score as many points as possible. But you know the motivation is different when you are not fighting for the win. There is still a long way to go and a lot can still happen in this rally, so we just need to continue as we are and see what happens.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia had been holding second position before their day came to an untimely end this morning. Battling for the lead – and with their main championship rival further afield – the Frenchmen were in a strong position but it wasn’t to last.
Having damaged the suspension of his Ford Fiesta WRC after a heavy landing through the first pass of Jukojärvi (SS4), Ogier then ran wide towards the end of the stage and impacted with the Finnish trees just 700 metres from the stage end.
With the impact damaging the rear-right suspension, Ogier could go no further but aims to return under Rally 2 regulations tomorrow.
SS1: 3rd (+1.5)
SS2: 5th (+0.5)
SS3: 10th (+4.9)
Sébastien Ogier said:
“There was a big jump about two kilometres before we crashed. The landing damaged the rear suspension and towards the end of the stage I got a bit distracted by it. I was too late on the brakes and we had an impact sideways into a tree.
“It's a real shame because our pace was really good and now we have missed an opportunity to score some good points for the championship. We had already lost some seconds with a throttle problem that was coming and going, but without that we were fighting right at the front.”
1. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:11:36.4
2. Jari-Matti Latvala / Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +4.4
3. Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +19.0
4. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +33.0
5. Juho Hänninen / Kaj Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +39.1
6. Mads Østberg / Ola Fløene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.0
7. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +45.1
8. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai 120 Coupe WRC) +58.0
9. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) +1:07.6
10. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:50.2