M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak showcased a blend of speed and maturity over the final day of competition at Neste Oil Rally Finland today to claim vital points and sixth place overall.
Encompassing six stages and 139.8 competitive kilometres south-west of the rally base in Jyväskylä, Day 3 of Rally Finland was arguably the most challenging yet. Featuring some of Finland’s classic stages with wide roads and fast jumps, the crews then tackled two passes of one of the most daunting stages in the championship – the legendary Ouninpohja which, run in its entirety for the first time since 2007, made up 20 per cent of the rally’s total distance.
With a better road position going into the morning stages, Tänak showed his pace behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC with two top-four stage times. Challenging the front runners, the Estonian was 3.2 seconds faster than Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg on the opening test [SS13] and split the two factory Ford’s through Leustu 1 [SS14].
The top-five times continued for Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk over the second pass as the 24-year-old built his speed throughout the course of each stage. Following a loss of rear-wheel drive for Mads Østberg on SS16, Tänak’s speed paid dividends as the Estonian climbed to fifth place – 2.1 seconds up on the Norwegian going into the final two tests.
Despite losing out to a resurgent Østberg on the penultimate test, Tänak showed his maturity with a composed drive through the two passes of Ouninpohja – securing sixth place and valuable championship points.
Elsewhere, disadvantaged running his Ford Fiesta RS WRC first on the road, Novikov concentrated on maintaining yesterday’s speed and making it to the end of the challenging event. After overshooting some junctions in search of a clean line through the lose gravel on the opening test [SS13], the Russian was back in the top-ten stage times through SS14.
Not giving the stages their usual dose of ‘maximum attack’ so as not to risk further injury to co-driver Denis Giraudet’s back, Novikov’s composure continued over the afternoon loop. Setting the ninth fastest time through SS15 – 4.6 seconds up on Thierry Neuville who was also recovering from a roll on Friday’s stages – the 21-year-old climbed another four places in the overall standings.
Taking the two passes of Ouninpohja in his stride, Novikov climbed another 17 places for 36th place overall and gained valuable experience of one of the most challenging tests on the WRC calendar.
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“The rally was quite OK. It was a bit frustrating in the beginning but I think that had a lot to do with our starting position. This morning we just decided we had to push a bit harder – and we did and everything was going well. The first stages went well, but for sure Ouninpohja is a very difficult stage and I have never been there before so we took it a bit easier just to make sure that everything is OK in the pacenotes.
“At the moment, sixth place was the maximum we could have achieved, so I am happy with that.”
Evgeny Novikov (36th) said:
“The rally was OK. Not so great but I am satisfied and we are at the finish. We got some good experience from all the stages and I feel much more confident and ready for next year.”