Ott Tänak stormed to the lead of Rally Finland after the opening superspecial test around the streets of host city Jyväskylä, over a second ahead of Thierry Neuville.
Tänak was a pre-event favourite for victory, and while the superspecial was a more technical affair than the fast sweeping roads that the Estonian is known to thrive on, he was still beaming at the stage end after going quickest.
Neuville was 1.1 seconds off the pace, four tenths up on title rival and reigning champion Sébastien Ogier. Neuville had been second quickest in the pre-event shakedown and had a trouble-free run at the Autoglym Rally warm-up event, giving him a solid platform to build from for the rest of the weekend.
“The most important thing is to feel comfortable in the car,” he said at the stage finish. “The main thing is to enjoy [the rally], stay in a close battle with Sébastien and finish ahead of him at the end of the weekend.”
Craig Breen had been left feeling “absolutely petrified” by his Citroen C3 at the last round in Poland, but was in a far more cheerful mood at the end of Finland’s opening test, having set the fourth fastest time.
“I remember saying at the end of this stage last year that I have the Playstation back. I feel like I have my Playstation back now,” he enthused. “The guys have worked wonders. I just can’t wait for tomorrow morning. Bring it on.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was the fastest Toyota in fifth, and while he was happy with the overall performance of his Yaris WRC, rued a mistake early in his run which left him playing catch-up for the remainder of the superspecial.
“I think I lost a little bit of time on the first corner,” he explained. “I should have taken a little bit less speed, but otherwise I was happy with the behaviour of the car.”
Latvala’s team-mate Esapekka Lappi did not fare as well in the first stage of his top level Finland debut. His run was littered with minor errors, and was left struggling to deal with out of place tyre chicanes compromising his run.
“One chicane was fully blocked, so I needed to hit the tyres,” he explained at stage end. “I don’t know if I have damage. The car couldn’t fit on the chicane, and that’s it. The tyres were moved already so much.”
Eric Camilli was the fastest R5 competitor through the opening stage, but is not registered for WRC-2 points this weekend. The class lead therefore belongs to Umberto Scandola, who holds a half second lead over the Fiesta R5 of Pierre-Louis Loubet. The latter’s compatriot Quentin Gilbert holds third.
Julius Tannert took the early lead in the Junior WRC category, going eight tenths quicker than current championship leader Nil Solans. Second to fifth were covered by only half a second, with Nicolas Ciamin, Dennis Rådström and Terry Folb occupying the places behind Solans.
Tom Williams – godson of former world champion Richard Burns – suffered a devastating blow in his international WRC event debut. He was entered in the RC4 category, but failed to complete any competitive running due to a terminal mechanical failure with his Ford Fiesta R2.
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