Jari-Matti Latvala takes home victory on Rally Finland for the second year in succession - and the third time in his WRC career
Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala took his third victory on Rally Finland on Sunday, while Sebastien Ogier was second and further extended his lead in the 2015 WRC Drivers' Championship.
Latvala went into the final day with a 13.2 second advantage over Ogier and victory in the penultimate stage – his tenth of the event – saw him eke it out to 14.1s.
The Finn was then second best to Ogier in the Power Stage - 0.4s the difference - but that was all academic in terms of the win.
“It is a fantastic victory,” said Latvala, after winning the fastest WRC event in history, repeating his Finland wins from 2014 and 2010. “I had a really good drive all weekend, especially on Saturday, which was one of the greatest drives I have ever done.
“After Poland I concentrated for three weeks on this event. I decided my championship chance was gone, but I knew if I could win here it would help.
“It is a great feeling to win here three times – amazing. It is also my second win in a row here – that is very special too.”
Latvala's second victory of the year moves him up to second in the Drivers' Championship, albeit 89 points adrift of Ogier.
Ogier set the pace initially, winning the short Harju super special on Thursday evening and then taking three further wins on Friday morning to build an early 5.3s lead over Latvala.
Latvala, however, fought back in the afternoon, trimming the Frenchman's lead in SS6 and SS7, before grabbing P1 overall after taking a massive 5.4s out of him in SS8, Ouninpohja 2, when he notched up his second stage win of the day and the 400th of his WRC career. The Finn then posted another fastest time in SS9, ending the leg 2.6s ahead.
On Saturday, Latvala and Ogier both took two stages wins-apiece in the morning, with the gap ebbing and flowing from 6s to just 2.
The repeats in the afternoon, however, proved crucial and while in the first test after lunch there was nothing between them – just 0.1s in Ogier's favour – Latvala pulled away after, going fastest in all three tests, gaining 3.3 seconds in the rain-hit SS16, 5.2 seconds in SS17 and 1.8 seconds in SS18.
Ogier later admitted that a scare in SS16 - when hit a rock near the start and then backed off because he thought he had a puncture - was the turning point.
“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,” Ogier added.
Meanwhile, Mads Ostberg took the final podium position, inheriting third on Saturday afternoon when Citroen team-mate Kris Meeke broke the front-left wheel in SS16 after hitting a tree.
“It is so nice to be at the end,” said Ostberg. “I enjoyed the whole rally. It is nice to be back and fighting after Poland. It's been a fantastic weekend. We know why we are competitive and I hope we can continue to prepare in the same way in the future.”
Behind, Hyundai's Thierry Neuville recovered from his shakedown crash to take fourth, 2 minutes further back.
Ott Tanak was next up in fifth for M-Sport, despite having lost time on Friday after he “fu**ed-up” in SS3, hitting a rock and breaking the front-left damper.
Juho Hanninen took a very solid sixth on his return to the WRC in a privately entered Fiesta RS WRC, just 15s back.
Martin Prokop was seventh in another privately run Fiesta, while Esapekka Lappi, Pontus Tidemand and Lorenzo Bertelli rounded out the top ten.
Lappi dominated the WRC2 category in his Skoda Fabia R5, winning 13 of the 19 stages and beating Tidemand in the sister car by over 1.5 minutes. Stephane Lefebvre was third in WRC2 and 12th overall.
Of the rest, Dani Sordo finished just outside the top ten in P11 in his Hyundai, losing over 5 minutes in SS15 on Saturday when he went off the road and got stuck in a ditch.
M-Sport's Elfyn Evans was two spots back in 13th, having had to nurse his car through Friday's stages after damaging the rear-right suspension in SS4. He was of course unable to make any repairs until the end of the day as there was no mid-day service, just a regroup.
In terms of retirements, Andreas Mikkelsen, Hayden Paddon and Robert Kubica were the most notable casualties. Mikkelsen and Paddon both had big crashes on Friday, in SS5 and in SS6 respectively, while Kubica – running under Rally 2 after alternator issues on day one - rolled his car right at the end of the final test on Saturday.
The World Rally Championship now heads to Germany in three weeks time, with that event running from August 20-23.