03 August 2016 ~ 0 Comments

Not quite a perfect Finnish: second place for Latvala and Anttila at Rally Finland

2016 Volkswagen Polo R WRC, Rally Finland: Latvala/Anttila

Once again the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) failed to lived up its 2016 all-conquering Sébastien Ogier expectations, with part-time Citroën driver Kris Meeke stepping onto the winner’s podium at the eighth round of the series, Rally Finland. Finnish Volkswagen Motorsport driver Jari-Matti Latvala was second at his home rally, set in the forests and lakes around Jyväskylä on 28-31 July.

Form in Finland
Latvala has form in Finland, having won one of the fastest events on the WRC calendar in both 2015 and 2014, and he set the pace on the pre-event shakedown, 0.5 seconds ahead of team-mates Sébastien Ogier and Andreas Mikkelsen, both of whom tied for second. Latvala’s start in Finland – his 164th – saw him surpass Mikko Hirvonen as the most experienced Finnish rally driver in WRC history.

The Finn’s second place in his home country event sees him and co-driver Miikka Anttila climb to third place in the Drivers’ Championship, behind runner-up team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen and fellow Volkswagen Motorsport driver and current world champion Sébastien Ogier. Although a good result, wrc.com reports that a ‘lack of fighting spirit’ was to blame for the Finnish driver not securing a third successive win.

However, it was Ogier’s somewhat uncharacteristic excursion into a ditch following a tight hairpin on stage 10 which made him revaluate his performance. Overall, though, Latvala seemed happy with the result: ‘I am happy with my performance this weekend, even though I came up just short of a hat-trick of wins at the Rally Finland.

‘Very good haul’
‘Second place and a point on the Power Stage is a very good haul. I also climbed a place in the overall standings. All in all, we could not have done any more against Kris Meeke this weekend. Thank you to all the many fans who supported me. It is always very special to drive here on home soil. We now move on to the asphalt season, which was remarkably good to me last year,’ he stated.

Ogier’s run of bad luck and very differing performance to the past three years resulted in leaving Finland with no points at all, the first time in 47 rallies since he signed to Volkswagen Motorsport. Largely down to the corner cut on stage 10, ‘Surkee 2’, Finnish rally fans put him back on track – eventually – but by that point that damage had been done.

Sixteen minutes were lost, and the Frenchman and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia ended the rally in 24th place. However ‘asphalt season’ is looming with the next three rounds – including new-for-2016 round China – of this year’s WRC series all non-gravel events, so Ogier will not have to ‘sweep’ open the stages as he does on the more loose surface rallies.

And that’s something Ogier is looking forward to: ‘The best news of the day for Julien and me is that we are now spared the role of road sweeper for a while. I have had to do this for half a year now, and it is extremely tiring mentally to constantly having to battle with the difficult route conditions.

‘Impressive performance’
‘I am now looking forward to the Rally Germany, where the conditions will hopefully be good for everyone and we will hopefully be involved in a nice battle for the win. Apart from the mistake, I was very happy with our pace. We could have been looking at third place. Congratulations to Kris Meeke. He was able to drive without any pressure and produced an absolutely flawless and very impressive performance,’ Ogier concluded.

Third 318bhp Polo R WRC Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jæger came home seventh at the 66th Rally Finland and made up considerable ground on Ogier and Ingrassia in the drivers’ standings. While a Finnish podium place still eluded the young Norwegian, he was still quick and on a confidence high from Rally Poland. On stage 13, the legendary ‘Ouninpohja’, conditions conspired against him.

Ogier’s late arrival at the stage check-in after a roadside repair during a liaison stage meant his second place in the drivers’ standings saw Mikkelsen take over the Frenchman’s road-sweeping duties. Consequently, as Ogier has realised this year, his timings were off the pace, and although he and Jæger fought hard, a place outside the top five was the best they could achieve.

‘Awesome feeling’
Mikkelsen was in a reflective, but happy mood, though: ‘All in all, Anders and I can be happy with seventh place. We could not have done any more this weekend. Driving on these fantastic routes is an awesome feeling. Another positive is the fact that we made up a few points on Sébastien.

‘His lead is obviously still a big one, but we are still in touch. It was difficult once we suddenly had to open the route on Saturday. We did our very best, but starting first really did not make life easy. I was driving on the very limit all the time on some of the stages, but my times were still slow,’ the driver from Oslo noted.

Outgoing Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito was both pleased and disappointed with the mixed results the Finnish forests had given his drivers: ‘We are delighted with second place for Jari-Matti and Miikka. They produced another top class performance at their home rally. They could not have done any more, and this result sees them take their place among the front-runners in the overall standings.

‘The rally certainly did not pan out as hoped for Sébastien and Julien, but you just have to put their costly slip-up down as a small error with a big consequence – after all, even world champions are only human. Andreas Mikkelsen and Anders Jæger also produced a very strong display, which was not reflected in the result. On course for a podium finish, they were then forced to open the route, which was a major disadvantage.’

‘Worthy winners’
He praised Meeke’s performance: ‘All in all, it was an intense Rally Finland, after which we have all three crews in the top three places in the overall standings, and continue to hold a clear lead in the Manufacturers’ Championship. As such, we are really looking forward to our home rally in Germany. Last but not least: congratulations to Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle. They produced a strong, flawless performance here in Finland and are worthy winners.’

Latvala’s podium was the 80th for the Polo R WRC – as well as he and Antilles’ third in a row – after a 333.6km event which was full of excitement. A puncture early on saw him and Anttila fight back into contention after losing a valuable amount of time on what is traditionally one of the fastest events on the WRC calendar. Indeed, Latvala’s 125.44km/h average speed record set in 2015 was surpassed by winner Meeke this year – the Irishman was 1.17km/h faster.

The ninth round of the 2016 FIA World Rally Championship is Rally Germany, which runs from 18-21 August through the roads of the Trier and Mosel vineyards, across the Baumholder military tracks and routes in the Eifel mountains. Volkswagen Motorsport’s home rally, the event held a curse for the Hannover-based team which it managed to break and claim victory for the first time in 2015.

2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,
RALLY FINLAND FINAL RESULTS

1 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (GB/IRL), Citroën: 2h 38m 05.8s
2 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen: + 29.1s
3 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (IRL/GB), Citroën: + 1m 41.3s
4 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai: + 1m 45.9s
5 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai: + 1m 48.2s

7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen: + 2m 22.4s

24 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen: + 19m 50.6s

2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,
DRIVERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
1 Sébastien Ogier, 143
2 Andreas Mikkelsen, 98
3 Jari-Matti Latvala, 87
4 Hayden Paddon, 84
5 Thierry Neuville, 76

2016 FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP,

MANUFACTURERS’ CHAMPIONSHIP POINTS
1 Volkswagen Motorsport, 227
2 Hyundai Motorsport, 168
3 M-Sport, 112
4 Volkswagen Motorsport II, 109
5 Hyundai Motorsport N, 86

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