Sebastien Loeb has become the first non-Scandinavian driver to win Rally Finland on more than one occasion after a superb drive to see off the challenges of teammate Sebastien Ogier and Flying Finn Jari-Matti Latvala.
The trio had fought for the win throughout the event, with road order tactics forcing Loeb into the lead at the end of both Thursday and Friday, meaning he had to sweep the road on the subsequent days. However, on both occasions this did not seem to slow him down.
He won the opening stage of the final day – SS12 Leustu 1 – to extend his narrow advantage over Ogier to 7.9s. By the end of the morning loop of five stages he had a 10.8s lead over Ogier, with Latvala 20s behind.
Loeb kept hold of the lead throughout the afternoon repeats and the final power stage. Latvala moved into second place after Ogier suffered a puncture on SS17 which wiped out almost all of his margin over the Ford driver. A more cautious run through the following stage while Latvala took the stage win allowed the Finn into second. Latvala closed to within eight seconds of Loeb by the end of the rally but it would not be enough.
Mikko Hirvonen continued his fightback from losing two minutes on Thursday evening's rally-opening stages, jumping into fourth place ahead of Norwegian duo Petter Solberg and Mads Ostberg during the final day. He won 13 of the 22 stages, including the power stage which yielded him an additional three bonus points.
Solberg finished fifth in his privately-entered Citroen after a quiet rally, with Ostberg only 11 seconds behind his compatriot. His M-Sport Stobart teammates Henning Solberg and Matthew Wilson moved up into seventh and eighth, the latter holding off a rally-long attack from Kimi Raikkonen.
The trio benefited from the retirements of the two factory Minis on the final loop with overheating issues. Drivers Dani Sordo and Kris Meeke and been running seventh and eighth after a largely trouble-free second WRC event for the new car.
Juho Hanninen had been ahead of the Solberg-Wilson-Raikkonen trio for the early part of the rally, but eased off after his main Super 2000 rival Ott Tanak slipped back with two spins on Friday. Hanninen finished more than two and a half minutes ahead of nearest rival Martin Prokop to score his second win of the SWRC season as well as the final overall point.
In PWRC, New Zealander Hayden Paddon scored his third straight win in the category in 19th overall. In the WRC Academy, Egon Kaur stole the lead from Craig Breen on the penultimate stage to take his third win from as many events in the category.
Loeb’s victory moves him 27 points ahead of Hirvonen in the standings, with Ogier four points behind the Finn. The next rally is Rallye Deutschland on 18-21 August.
Top ten results after SS22:
|1.||1||Sebastien Loeb||Citroen Total||Citroen DS3 WRC||2:39:37.0|
|2.||4||Jari-Matti Latvala||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+8.1|
|3.||2||Sebastien Ogier||Citroen Total||Citroen DS3 WRC||+12.8|
|4.||3||Mikko Hirvonen||Ford Abu Dhabi||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1:09.1|
|5.||11||Petter Solberg||PSWRT||Citroen DS3 WRC||+1:16.2|
|6.||6||Mads Ostberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+1:27.8|
|7.||15||Henning Solberg||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:25.5|
|8.||5||Matthew Wilson||M-Sport Stobart||Ford Fiesta RS WRC||+3:53.2|
|9.||8||Kimi Raikkonen||Ice 1||Citroen DS3 WRC||+3:59.8|
|10.||25||Juho Hanninen||Red Bull Skoda||Skoda Fabia S2000||+5:13.7|
Drivers’ standings after 8 of 13 rounds:
1. Sebastien Loeb, 171 points
2. Mikko Hirvonen, 144
3. Sebastien Ogier, 140
4. Jari-Matti Latvala, 94
5. Petter Solberg, 83
6. Mads Ostberg, 56