Jari Huttunen has established a near-minute lead on his WRC2 class debut, streaking clear of the field at his home event despite a trip off the road at one point.
Huttunen – a former winner of the Future Rally Star of Finland award – had started the day in 12th after a scruffy run through Thursday’s rally-opening superspecial, but by Friday’s second stage had moved into the lead, from which he did not look back.
Gus Greensmith had been his early rival for the lead, but his challenge went pear-shaped after a trip off the road during the afternoon loop of stages. The Brit had run wide through a fast left, his pace-notes failing to take into account the tightening nature of the corner. The damage caused was so extensive it forced his retirement from the day’s running.
The mantle of Huttunen’s primary challenger then fell to Pierre-Louis Loubet, driving an identical M-Sport Fiesta to Greensmith. He too fell by the wayside – only one stage after Greensmith – hitting a rock and breaking his Ford’s suspension midway through the Lankamaa test.
With the immediate pressure off, Huttunen went on to win every stage in the afternoon loop bar the first and last. This included SS10, where he gained 11.6 seconds over second placed Quentin Gilbert despite flying off the road and into a field.
Despite cementing a solid lead in the second-tier category Huttunen was still left unhappy with his performance, having finished behind the unregistered R5 specification cars of Ole Christian Veiby and Eric Camilli.
“Two guys are going a little bit faster than me in R5 cars,” he said despondently after the day’s penultimate stage. He finished the day 12.4 seconds and 10.7 seconds behind Veiby and Camilli respectively.
There was a late change in the day for the final podium position. Hiroki Arai – a member of the Toyota development programme – had inherited third place after Greensmith and Loubet’s retirements, but spent most of the afternoon loop coping with a temperamental pop-off valve. The time loss caused dropped him behind Fabio Andolfi during the penultimate stage.
“When the car is not accelerating pretty well, sometimes the pop-off valve was coming up suddenly, then it started accelerating in the middle of the corner,” explained Arai. “That is quite a tricky one, hard to control the speed as well.”
Tom Cave rounded out the top five, coping with mechanical woes of his own. His brake pedal had been going straight to the floor at moments during the afternoon loop, and while the situation improved towards the end of the day, his sights were already set on a fresh start on Saturday.
“We managed to retrieve some brakes,” he said at the penultimate stage finish. “We’ve only got front brakes so it’s better than nothing. We’re just trying to manage it and nurse the car back to service now, that’s all we can do.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s just been a difficult afternoon.”
Cave’s problems allowed Osian Pryce in sixth to close on his compatriot, who in turn holds a half-minute advantage over Thursday class leader Umberto Scandola.
Arai’s Tommi Mäkinen Racing team-mate Takamoto Katsuta had been running strongly in the upper half of the field early on, but an alternator failure in the morning loop’s final stage forced the Toyota junior to retire.
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