With Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle third overall and Mads Østberg/Jonas Andersson in fourth position, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team mastered the first leg of Rally Finland.
The opening day of Rally Finland served up an extremely rich and varied route for the crews at this legendary World Championship event. With tens and tens of thousands of spectators lining the roads, the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team drivers had to tackle some of the most beautiful stages of the season to complete the first half of the route.
The day’s key stage, Ouninpohja is a very special test for all rally drivers and fans alike. The WRCs complete around 75 jumps in 34 kilometres, spending over thirty seconds in the air without touching the ground! For decades, regardless of the configuration, this has been the decisive stage that all the drivers want to add to their competitive record.
We are going to keep going and continue to push in order to put pressure on the leaders.
The crews had eight stages to complete. After making a successful start to the rally in the streets of Jyväskylä last night, the DS 3 WRCs set off on this morning’s stages nestled between lakes and forests at average speeds in excess of 130kph.
Kris Meeke began the day in style, setting the second-fastest time on the opening stage (SS2) to grab the overall lead. Throughout the leg, with a stage win on Päijälä (SS7), he matched the pace of Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier. Despite a minor moment on Ouninpohja (SS4) and a penalty for arriving late at a time control at the end of the afternoon, the Northern Irishman remained among the front-runners and made it back to Jyväskylä in third overall, around twenty seconds behind the leader.
At a similar pace, Mads Østberg held fourth place overall at the end of the first pass on Ouninpohja. The Norwegian consistently moved further ahead of this nearest challengers, whilst remaining ready to pounce just behind the top three.
Back on a surface that was somewhat unfamiliar after a four-year absence, Khalid Al Qassimi gradually found his bearings as he completed more stages. Despite a brief run-in with a ditch, he ended the long first leg in seventeenth place, having acquired additional experience that will prove very important for the rest of the rally.
Competing in the WRC2 category, Stéphane Lefebvre was sandwiched between a group of Nordic drivers. He ended the opening day in a very encouraging third position in his DS 3 R5.
In the FIA Junior WRC, the championship leader Quentin Gilbert finished day one ahead of the Norwegian Ole Christian Veiby and local favourite Henri Haapamäki.
Saturday’s leg features eight stages on gravel roads between Jyväskylä, Keuruu and Jämsä. The cars are due to leave parc ferme at 7am for two loops, separated by a midday service at 1.14pm. The crews will complete 130 kilometres of timed sections before returning to Jyväskylä from 7.40pm onwards.
Mads Østberg: “The day went well. We lost a few seconds at the start of the morning. From stage three onwards, we were more or less on the pace. We are going to keep going and continue to push in order to put pressure on the leaders. I’m looking forward to tomorrow, because I really love the stages on this loop.”
Kris Meeke: “I felt just as good in the car as I did last year on this very fast course. I had a strange feeling with the car after the first run on Ouninpohja. I heard a noise at the front; first of all, I thought it was a puncture and then that it was a transmission issue. We’re going to take a look in service. In the afternoon, I concentrated even harder to keep the car on the racing line and even managed to claim a stage win!”
Khalid Al Qassimi: “I’m not really happy with my performance. I thought I would improve more between the two loops. In these conditions, with the rain and the slippery roads, I wasn’t able to up my pace as much as I would have liked. It was very difficult to build my confidence on these very fast roads with so many blind jumps. I tried to minimise the risks and I hope that tomorrow’s leg will go better than today.”