Nicolas Ciamin emerged as the surprise leader after the first full day of JWRC action at Rally Finland, holding a 22.6 second lead over fellow Frenchman Terry Folb.
Swede Dennis Rådström had picked up first on the day’s opening stage from overnight leader Julius Tannert, a position he held until a poor run through the second running of Urria saw him concede the rally lead to Ciamin.
Immediately after assuming the lead, Ciamin imposed himself up front, going 10 seconds faster than anyone else in the final stage of the morning loop. Rådström then lost second to Folb in Äänekoski-Valtra, the opening afternoon test.
The French duo spent the rest of the afternoon trading fastest stage times, pulling away from Rådström in third. Given the Finnish domination of the top category, it was unusual to see a pair more used to sealed surfaces dominate the junior category, something that even Ciamin was not prepared for.
“I didn’t expect to be leading,” he said. “It was a long day with a lot of stages and we pushed really hard. Sometimes it was a little scary but if you are not scared here then you are not going fast enough.
“Terry is not so far behind and we must stay flat-out to be at the front. There’s still a lot to go.”
Folb was looking to Finland as a turning point for his season, having scored only a single podium finish this season. Having lost out on third place at Poland due to a late puncture, he was pushing hard to finish in the top three this weekend.
“It was a good day, the first time in Finland for my co-driver and he’s been doing a great job. To be winning stages here you need to take a little risk and that’s what we’ve done today.
“I’m confident for tomorrow but it will be tough, there are some proper stages.”
Nil Solans found himself in an unusual position of being outside the podium positions altogether, finishing the day fourth fastest. He had made clear before the event he was driving to score points to boost his JWRC title hopes, along with securing two WRC2 prize drives for scoring the most points in Poland and Finland combined. The latter is currently at risk, with Ciamin currently sitting on 40 points as things stand, with Solans on 37.
Sealed surface expert Tannert found himself unable to keep up with the pace set by Ciamin and Folb, settling for fifth place at the end of Friday. Emil Lindholm in sixth had been in contention for the podium positions early, but overshot a rutted chicane in the second Jukojärvi test, causing his Fiesta to become stuck in a sandbank and losing over half a minute.
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