Jari-Matti Latvala held off a late charge from Volkswagen team-mate Sebastien Ogier to secure victory at Rally Finland.
Latvala was unstoppable in the early stages of the rally, as the Finn stormed away from his nearest rivals by over 30 seconds.
However, Latvala experienced some trouble on Saturday. He damaged his brakes after impact during the afternoon stages and had to run three stages without any brake power on his right-front.
This allowed Ogier to dramatically close the gap and put himself back into contention for the win. By Sunday Ogier was only three seconds behind Latvala heading into the closing stages.
It was an incredibly tense finish to the rally as the team-mates traded best times throughout the final leg. Latvala began the final day by extending his lead to five seconds, while Ogier hit back on the following stages by taking closing the gap by 1.3s.
This meant the fight for the lead went down to the Powerstage. Ogier won the Powerstage but was only able to do it by one tenth meaning Latvala took his first home win for four years.
“This win in Finland is a very special moment for Miikka (Anttila – co-driver) and me,” said Latvala. “I had a good feeling in the Polo R WRC right from the start of the rally, and the car was set up perfectly once again – This win was a tough cookie though. We were in a predicament on Saturday when we were no longer able to use one of our brakes. Nevertheless, we didn’t give up.”
Eventhough Ogier lost out to his team-mate and championship rival the Frenchman insisted he was happy to come second: “I may not have won, but it was still a fantastic final; with a great battle all the way to the very last second. Congratulations to Jari-Matti and Miikka, they really deserved this win n their home country. They were simply unbeatable this time.”
Kris Meeke was a comfortable third in his Citroen WRC. Meeke was briefly running second on Friday but quickly lost out to a hard-charging Ogier. Meeke finished 50.6s behind Latvala but was over a minute ahead of his closest rival Andreas Mikkelsen in fourth.
“I’m delighted to be on the podium on one of the biggest events in the championship,” said an overjoyed Meeke. “I was on the podium in Monte Carlo and in Argentina, but this one feels more special – it feels like I’ve earned it – I wasn’t gifted this, we got it with good speed.”
Mikkelsen was also comfortable in fourth, finishing almost a minute ahead of Mikko Hirvonen in fifth, who had been challenging Meeke before a spin on Friday.
The M-Sport man was disappointed to finish in fifth as he had been hoping to challenge for a podium. Hirvonen hit a stray rock on Saturday afternoon which damaged the damper. The Finn only managed to finish fifth because nearest challenger Mads Ostberg retired with rollcage damage.
“It’s been a bit up and down and I’m a bit disappointed,” said Hirvonen. “It wasn’t so bad at the start of the rally and on Friday I was really happy with the way we were driving and where we were fighting. But then we made a small mistake – It has been a tough weekend.”
The Hyundai i20 of Juho Hanninen was also a podium challenger early on but fell to 12th after a roll. His team-mate Hayden Paddon was on course to beat Hanninen early on but a power steering failure on Sunday meant he could only manage eighth behind his team-mate and Elfyn Evans.
Privateer Henning Solberg and Karl Kruuda, who claimed a dominant WRC 2 victory, rounded out the top ten.
Robert Kubica had another rally to forget after a hefty crash on Friday. Kubica rejoined under Rally2 but was unable to make it inside the top 30 due to a number of penalties.
European Rally Championship driver Craig Breen also had a weekend to forget after a heavy impact after a jump on Sunday left Breen with severe back pain. Breen was unable to continue and went to hospital for checks, he was released today (August 5th).
Final leading positions:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Jari-Matti Latvala VW 2h57m23.2s
2. Sebastien Ogier VW +3.6s
3. Kris Meeke Citroen +50.6s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen VW +1m52.5s
5. Mikko Hirvonen M-Sport Ford +2m49.7s
6. Juho Hanninen Hyundai +4m29.0s
7. Elfyn Evans M-Sport Ford +5m25.8s
8. Hayden Paddon Hyundai +6m17.8s
9. Henning Solberg Solberg Ford +12m07.0s
10. Karl Kruuda ME3 Ford +14m44.7s*