An incredibly intense opening leg at Rally Finland saw Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen challenge for the lead, until a heavy downpour cost them around fifteen seconds. One of the day’s stand-out performances was produced by Kris Meeke and Chris Patterson, who finished the day sixth overall in their first race in the DS3 WRC of the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT.
With six stages, over a total of 41 kilometres, the first leg of Rally Finland amounted to a series of short sprints, which made it almost impossible for big gaps to form under normal racing conditions.
Proceedings got underway with the Himos stage, which is not very representative of the rest of the rally given its semi-artificial road surface. The crews had to wait until Torittu (SS2) to find the forest roads that are typical of the land of a thousand lakes. Mikko Hirvonen set the third fastest time to take the joint overall lead, alongside Thierry Neuville.
Neck and neck with his two rivals before the second run on Himos, Mikko Hirvonen dropped back on SS5 for a rather unusual reason. Unlike SS1, where as usual the competitors set off every two minutes, the organisers changed the starting sequence in order to meet televised broadcast requirements. After setting off four to five minutes after his direct rivals, Mikko had to contend with much heavier rain than the shower that had been falling up to that point. By the end of the stage, he was 16s off the lead time.
“The problem wasn’t the rain in itself, but the fact that they decided to split the drivers challenging for the lead into different groups. It’s a serious error by the organisers, who have put business considerations ahead of sporting and safety considerations,” commented a surprised Mikko. “Without this episode, I’m not saying I would be leading the rally, but I wouldn’t be fourth, 13.8s behind the leader. It’s far from over though, there are still two long days left to go. I’m going to have to push really hard to try and make up the time I lost today.”
The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s second DS3 WRC ended the leg in ninth position, over half a minute adrift of the leader. In the car, Dani Sordo was unable to hide his disappointment: “There’s not a lot can be said, really, other than I’ll try to do better tomorrow. I didn’t feel confident in my notes, especially in the quick sections. We’re going to look with the team at how we can try and improve.”
In his first rally in the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT’s DS3 WRC, Kris Meeke produced a stunning performance, finishing third on two stages and ending the day in sixth overall, just 5/10ths outside the top five: “It was a great day, although I’m annoyed that we picked up a puncture on SS2. I made a minor mistake which cost me six or seven seconds. On the following stages, I was very attentive and I drove in the middle of the road, because another puncture would have forced me to retire. Despite of all that, I set some good times. I feel so at home in the car, it’s almost as if I’m part of it. I want to continue to show what I can do and drive an intelligent race!”
Competing in his DS3 RRC, Robert Kubica managed to grab second place in a very competitive field in the WRC2 category. Sandwiched between Jari Ketomaa and Elfyn Evans, the Pole was pleased with his performance: “The conditions were variable and the last two stages were particularly difficult because of the rain. There was so much water it reminded me of F1, when I had to drive with no windscreen and no wipers! But it was a good day, and I’m pleased to be in this position before we start the second leg, which will be even more demanding.”