Ott Tänak has a narrow four-point lead at the top of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship as the season restarts on this weekend’s Rally Finland.
A fine first eight rounds of the year have seen the Toyota GAZOO Racing driver clinch three victories so far and the Estonian will be hoping for a repeat of his win here last season to extend his championship lead. He won the promotional event on Rally Estonia during the summer break too in perfect preparation for this weekend.
Four points behind is Sebastien Ogier, with the reigning champion still well and truly in the championship fight despite not winning an event since Rally Mexico back in March. He had a relatively disastrous Rally Italia Sardegna before the summer break so will be hoping for a strong result on the fastest event on the calendar.
A total of 23 stages are scheduled to take place this weekend, which include the return of the Leustu stage – last used on the event five years ago. Most of the route however stays unchanged from 12 months ago.
The summer break has seen several driver changes being announced for the ninth round of the season. None more so than Craig Breen, who re-joins the WRC for the first time since the end of 2018 in the third Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC with Paul Nagle sitting alongside him.
The Irishman competes alongside Andreas Mikkelsen and Thierry Neuville, the third driver in the battle at the top of the standings and replaces Dani Sordo – winner in Italy and Sebastien Loeb, who have both chose to sit out the Finnish event.
M-Sport Ford also sees changes ahead of this weekend. Elfyn Evans was expected to compete alongside Teemu Suninen in the two full season entries, but a heavy landing during Rally Estonia has ruled the Welshman out of action this weekend.
With Evans missing out on medical grounds, the team have decided to give Gus Greensmith another opportunity to impress in the Ford Fiesta WRC, with the young Brit moving up from the WRC2 PRO class where he was expected to give the MK8 Fiesta R5 it’s WRC debut in Finland.
More drama hit the team earlier this week, as Hayden Paddon, who had agreed to drive a third M-Sport prepared Fiesta, suffered a huge testing accident after hitting a rock and was forced to withdraw from the event before it had began after the car was too badly damaged to be repaired in time for tonight’s opening stage.
Kris Meeke returns to Rally Finland for the first time since singing for Toyota at the beginning of 2019 as he aims for a strong result following his incident packed Rally Italia Sardgena, while teammate Jari-Matti Latvala and Citroen’s Esapekka Lappi will both be looking to kick-start their seasons as the second half of the year gets underway.
The final RC1 class entry is Finnish driver Jouni Virtanen who makes his first competitive appearance in a top-level WRC car.
Shakedown on Thursday morning saw Tänak top the timesheets ahead of Neuville, with Craig Breen just half a second behind in third on his return to the championship.
WRC2/WRC2 PRO – Camilli Gives MK8 Fiesta R5 Its Debut
After Gus Greensmith was called up to drive the Fiesta WRC vacated by Elfyn Evans, this means Eric Camilli is the man to give the new MK8 Ford Fiesta R5 it’s debut in the WRC2 PRO class this weekend.
The Frenchman has already driven the car on multiple events and tests throughout 2019 including on the Ypres Rally, but he will give the car it’s first WRC start in Finland.
Two more WRC2 PRO entries are confirmed for this weekend, with Kalle Rovanperä and Eerik Pietarinen in a pair of Skoda Fabia R5 Evo’s.
WRC2 meanwhile has seen several late changes to it’s entry list, with both Rhys Yates, who hasn’t repaired the Skoda Fabia R5 in time after a large crash on the Ypres event and Emil Bergkvist, who hasn’t got the funds to compete in Finland, both now no longer taking part.
Ole Christian Veiby meanwhile has given double FIA World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersson the chance to compete in Finland in the Volkswagen Polo R5.
Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta enters in a new MK8 Fiesta R5 in the class, while both Pierre-Louis Loubet and Henning Solberg both have new Fabia R5 Evo’s at their disposal. A strong entry also sees Nikolay Gryazin and Jari Huttunen competing in the class.
The WRC2 runners in Finland are completed by Brazilian Paulo Nobre, Grégoire Munster and Finnish drivers Emil Lindholm and Tomi Tukiainen.
Rovanperä topped the times of the WRC2 PRO and WRC2 runners on shakedown with Loubet the quickest WRC2 entry ahead of Lindholm.
Rally Finland begins later this evening and continues throughout this weekend with daily updates throughout this weekend on The Checkered Flag.