WRC 2015 – Rally Finland
The “Finnish Grand Prix” is always good for exciting sideways gravel action, and this year, the big crests and even bigger speeds once again favored a local for the coveted top spot. Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala claimed his 14th career victory on Sunday, marking his second win for the 2015 season and his third win at his home event. Latvala also set a new record for fastest event in WRC history, posting an average velocity of 125.44 kph (77.94 mph), besting the previous record of 122.89 kph (76.36 mph) set by Sebastien Loeb at the same event in 2012.
Trailing Latvala in second place was fellow Volkswagen driver and defending world champion Sebastien Ogier, who finished the weekend 13.7 seconds down on the Finn.
It was a slugfest between Latvala and Ogier for the majority of the weekend. Ogier was first out front with stage wins Thursday night and Friday morning, which placed him five seconds ahead of the Finn. However, Latvala fought back Friday afternoon, eventually eclipsing the Frenchman on SS8.
Saturday morning saw the two trade stage wins back and forth, with the gap between the frontrunners fluctuating by just a few seconds. But by the afternoon, Latvala had begun to pull ahead. Ogier finally settled behind Latvala on SS16, fearing a puncture after clipping a rock.
“This was one of the greatest drives of my life,” Latvala said at the end of the final stage, celebrating the win with his father. “I’m proud to be a Finn today. I’ve had a tough season but winning my home event is like winning half a world championship.”
While a disappointing finish at Rally Poland last month dashed Latvala’s hopes for a title, he devoted his attention to a strong showing in Finland, and clearly, the work paid off.
Meanwhile, Ogier seemed satisfied with second, saying, “An amazing battle and an amazing weekend – it has been a fantastic rally, I really loved it. Jari-Matti was so strong – well done to him. I have no problem to be beaten by such a Jari-Matti.”
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Citroen’s Mads Ostberg managed to round out the top three spots, charging from the back of the top 10 with quick times on Friday, finally finishing 1 minute 23.1 seconds behind Ogier for his third podium of this season. “It is so nice to be at the end,” Ostberg said. “I enjoyed the whole rally. It is nice to be back and fighting after Poland. It’s been a fantastic weekend.”
This latest win for Latvala nudges him into second in the driver’s championship standings with 93 points total.
Ostberg was handed the third-place position after his teammate, Kris Meeke, crashed out on Saturday. Early on, Meeke looked to keep pace with Latvala and Ogier, even leading briefly Friday morning. However, transmission issues saw him drop back, giving Ostberg the chance to challenge for the overtake. The final blow came Saturday afternoon when Meeke went wide and hit a tree, mangling his car’s suspension.
Meeke wasn’t the only driver to see carnage on the treacherous Finnish roads. One of the first was Thierry Neuville, who crashed heavily on Thursday’s warm-up stages, prodding the Hyundai team mechanics into a frenzied rebuild that somehow put the 2014 Hyundai i20 WRC back on the road in time for competition. The Belgian finished in fourth.
After a good showing from Ott Tanak at Rally Poland last month, confidence was running high in the M-Sport Fiesta camp going into this weekend’s event. Unfortunately, it was short-lived, with both Tanak and his teammate Elfyn Evans damaging their cars Friday morning. Thankfully, Tanak managed to recoup and finish in fifth, despite a broken damper slowing his pace for most of Friday.
However, with Ogier scoring 18 points for his second-place finish, plus 3 bonus points with a power stage win, the world champion is now a massive 89 points ahead with 182 points total.
Others were less lucky. Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelsen was forced to retire after crashing heavily on Friday, as did Hyundai’s Haydon Paddon.
This latest win for Latvala nudges him into second in the driver’s championship standings with 93 points total. However, with Ogier scoring 18 points for his second-place finish, plus 3 bonus points with a power stage win, the world champion is now a massive 89 points ahead with 182 points total. And with only five races remaining in the season, that’s a seemingly insurmountable distance for any driver to cover for a title challenge, making Ogier’s third championship all but a certainty.
Mads Ostberg is now third in the Driver’s Championship following Mikkelsen’s retirement. Volkswagen leads the Manufacturer’s Championship with 257 points, followed by Citroen in second with 141 points and Hyundai in third with 139 points.
Rally Deutschland , the first all-tarmac rally of the season, will take place in just a few short weeks, scheduled to run between August 20th and 23rd. Keep it on TopSpeed for the latest.