WRC 2015: Home win for Latvala at Rally Finland
Jari-Matti Latvala won the Neste Oil Rally Finland for the third time and scored his second victory of the season, after an intense battle with his VW team-mate Sebastien Ogier, a battle which was finally resolved four stages from the end when rains descended for the only time during the event. A small error by the Frenchman gave the Finn a very slight advantage, enough psychologically to make the difference on what was to be the fastest world championship rally in history. Latvala's win moves him into second place in the championship, while third place for Citroen driver Mads Ostberg keeps him in third place. The traditionally high number of off road errors happened during the event and all four top teams went home with damaged cars. Once again the Skoda Fabia R5s of Esapekka Lappi and Pontus Tidemand were unbeatable in WRC2, beating the top RRC cars while the other R5 cars had problems. In a remarkable finish, Quentin Gilbert won the WRC3 category by exactly 0.5 second from Henri Haapamaki despite scoring no stage wins on the traditional Finnish gravel stages.
Jari-Matti Latvala yumps his way to a third win at his home rally. He's second in the WRC standings, now!
This turned out to be a classic "1000 Lakes" rally in the finest traditions. The 2015 edition was more compact with almost half the stages being run on the Friday without midday service. It soon became apparent that the pecking order between the teams was predictable. By early Friday afternoon the two VWs led the two Citroens and then two Hyundais, with Ford only M-Sport struggling. For twenty four hours the top Fiesta WRC driver was a privateer, initially Robert Kubica then Juho Hanninen, after both official team drivers Ott Tanak and Elfyn Evans lost time off the road on the Friday. Tanak fought back to finish fifth but Evans never regained the top ten. Just to rub in their superiority, every stage was won by a Volkswagen except for stage 7 which Meeke won in strange circumstances. He told stage-end reporters that his car "had a mind of its own, it is wandering all over the road!" To an impressive effect, obviously! His teammate Mads Ostberg finally had a rally in which things went right and he enjoyed it immensely. After Meeke crashed, Ostberg needed to slow down to guarantee points, but could not bear to do that. "It was such good fun!", he declared.
Hyundai's rally started with a bang, when Thierry Neuville crashed on Shakedown and the team worked very hard to get the car ready for the start later that afternoon. He suffered engine troubles but finally the car went well and he finished fourth overall. Top placed Hyundai driver early in the event had been fifth placed Hayden Paddon who then had a mighty accident on stage 6, and then Dani Sordo who also rose to fifth before losing five minutes off the road on Saturday afternoon going into a ditch. With the two team M-Sport drivers delayed, attention was on privateer Kubica. What started off so well went awfully wrong, with transmission and handbrake troubles and then alternator troubles. He came back on Day 2 only to crash at the end of the day and retire altogether. Martin Prokop finished seventh, best Pirelli finisher, and his sixth best top ten result of the year, while Lorenzo Bertelli was having the time of his life, finishing tenth after a faultless run to score his first 2015 Drivers' championship point.
The season now changes its character. From the ultra-fast now comes the medium speed asphalt rally in Germany, for which teams have already been testing and more intensity as well as unpredictable weather patterns are promised. While VW finished with both their team drivers, they are storming into the distance on the Manufacturers' series, while their rivals lost the chance of championship points because of misdemeanours. Citroen maintained their two point lead over Hyundai with M-Sport now another 13 points behind. For the world champion life isn't always perfect. "This weekend I must be happy. We tried pretty hard, we gave a lot. I did not give more than 100 per cent, but whatever I had I gave. It wasn't the perfect one. I have to accept that Jari-Matti was quicker this weekend, sometimes you have to accept that you can be beaten and this weekend they did that".
In WRC2 there were no fewer than 23 entries. Esapekka Lappi took control ahead of Skoda teammate Pontus Tidemand, the Drive DMack Fiesta of replacement driver Jarkko Nikara and Stephane Lefebvre, the best placed RRC. Tidemand had a slight off on the first run of Ouninpohja and a tyre slipped of the rim, this let Nikara up to second. On stage 7 Nikara's problems started and he gradually dropped down the field. Firstly he had engine trouble and Tidemand passed him into second place, then followed a broken driveshaft on stage 8, he was down to fourth. His run ended on stage 16 with a holed radiator leading to engine failure. Drivers who disappeared during the first day included Toyota cadet driver Eric Camilli, off the road, Nicolas Fuchs broke the steering rack after a puncture and Quentin Giordano had accident damage, Craig Breen retired reportedly due to another oil pump problem, Eyvind Brynildsen rolled with minimal damage but the car was then beached on roadside rocks and he retired with a double puncture. Martin Koci punctured and lost more than a minute. Radik Shaymiev had electronic troubles. Anders Grondal struggled with pop-off problems all day. On Day 2 Sander Parn twice went off for a second time, Valeriy Gorban crashed and blocked the route. Nicolas Fuchs stopped with more steering trouble and Koci gave up after a troubled run. Lappi and Tidemand came through to another 1-2 victory ahead of the RRCs of Lefebvre and Yuri Protasov (Fiesta), Scott Pedder's Fiesta R5 and Grondal's Citroen R5. In the WRC2 series Esapekka Lappi has taken the lead from the absent Ketomaa. Long after the rally had finished came news that Lefebvre's Citroen had been excluded from third place in respect of its ECU's software. Protasov benefitted from this, rising up in the series standings from fifth to third.
Fifteen cars started in WRC3. Quentin Gilbert led the category from the moment he retook the lead from Teemu Suninen, after the first two stages on the Friday having initially led after the opening stage. Lying second behind Suninen was Henri Haapamaki but he then lost time with a puncture which he changed. Gilbert held on to his lead but all the time Haapamaki was catching up time. From being one and a half minutes back in third place 24 hours earlier he was second, 22.8 seconds behind Gilbert with two stages to go. Third place was Ole Christian Veiby while Terry Folb had climbed to fourth. There was excitement when Gilbert (12.4 seconds ahead) checked in one minute late at the start of the final stage, eventually beating Haapamaki by 0.5 seconds overall! Gilbert only won two stages outright (both times, the downtown superspecial) with all the other WRC3 scratch times taken by the Finnish drivers Suninen, Haapamaki or Jari Huutinen. Permanent retirements included the Citroens of Matthieu Margaillan, Daniel McKenna (heavy landing, hole in the radiator which caused engine damage), Pierre-Louis Loubet Finnish federation prize drive winner Huttunen who damaged his suspension when fourth and Federico Della Casa who went off the road and the Peugeot R2 of Fabio Andolfi. Quentin Gilbert secured the sole lead in the series and in the Junior series extended his lead to 33 points.
This was the third of six rounds in the Drive DMack Fiesta Trophy, in which after two rounds Marius Aasen had a short lead over Max Vatanen. Following Nils Solans withdrawal from the series (attracted by a new chance to rally in WRC2) ten cars started. On the opening superspecial, Mats van den Brand became the first casualty of the rally when he hit a large kerb and gained a missed stage penalty. As the stages reached the forests there were two main contenders the British driver Tom Cave and the Norwegian driver Marius Aasen. There were disasters on stage 3 for Nicolas Amiouni broken brake disc while Gus Greensmith, Edoardo Bresolin and William Hudson all rolled in stage 3. Only Bresolin was able to continue on Saturday. Mats van den Brand had a slight 'off' on stage 14, but could not continue because of broken suspension and driveshaft. Vatanen and Aasen fought on for second place and eventually Aasen passed Vatanen on the penultimate stage. In the DDFT standings Aasen maintained his lead in the series while Cave and Vatanen, second and third respectively, were separated by just one point.
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