Sebastien Ogier earned his fifth World Rally Championship victory of the season in the Neste Oil Rally Finland.
Sebastien Ogier won a thrilling Neste Oil Rally Finland this afternoon to claim his fifth success of the season.
It was a 12th career victory for Ogier, who brought his Volkswagen Polo R to the Jyvaskyla finish with a 36.6sec advantage. It stretched his lead in the FIA World Rally Championship to 90 points with five rounds remaining.
Thierry Neuville took the runners-up spot for the second consecutive rally in a Ford Fiesta RS. The Belgian finished 21.0sec ahead of the similar car of Mads Ostberg, after an enthralling duel which was only decided when Ostberg went off the road in the penultimate stage.
“I had a dream about winning here,” said the Frenchman, who became only the fifth non-Nordic driver to win this classic event. “A lot of points for the championship and victory in Finland make it a perfect weekend.
“We pushed when we had to and backed off when necessary to save the tyres and the car,” said an emotional Ogier, who ensured that for the third consecutive year the rally was won by a non-Finn after 53 wins for the host country in the previous 60 editions.
Huge crowds lined the blisteringly fast roller-coaster forest roads of central Finland to watch what proved the most exciting event of the season. Four drivers led during the opening seven tests and just 11 seconds covered the quartet at the midpoint.
However, Ogier built a comfortable lead yesterday afternoon with a string of stage wins as one-by-one his rivals encountered problems. He had the luxury of measuring his pace through today’s final leg, but still produced the necessary speed to smash the record for the classic Ouninpohja test.
Neuville and Ostberg were locked together all day. The advantage swung to and fro and they started the second pass through Ouninpohja split by one-tenth of a second. But when Ostberg went off the road avoiding a huge rock, the battle was decided.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” admitted Neuville. “We did a great job. Yesterday we lost time with a puncture but otherwise it was a smooth, clean run. Before the rally I couldn’t have imagined this result was possible.”
Third marked a change in fortune for Ostberg after a disappointing opening half of the season.
“It’s nice to be here fighting for the whole rally without any problems,” said the Norwegian. “We have been leading, we had a safe second and we ended up third. But it’s great to fight for the win again and rebuild my confidence because it was low after the first half of the season.”
Mikko Hirvonen, who also led during the first leg, was fourth in a Citroen DS3, 1min 21.6sec behind Ogier. His chances ended when he dropped time in torrential rain on Thursday evening, but he was lucky to see the finish after twice almost rolling.
“It’s not what we were after from this rally, but we had our good moments,” said the 2009 winner.
Kris Meeke was on course for fifth in another DS3 after a fine debut in the car, but the Briton rolled out in the penultimate test. There was also late disappointment for Jarkko Nikara, who retired his Mini John Cooper Works from sixth with a broken front right shock absorber.
All that allowed Dani Sordo to claim a distant fifth in a DS3 after what the Spaniard admitted had been a poor rally for him. Evgeny Novikov rounded off the top six in a Fiesta RS, the Russian recovering after crashing into a log pile yesterday.
WRC 2 winner Jari Ketomaa took seventh after a successful debut for the new Fiesta R5, ahead of Sweden’s P-G Andersson. The top 10 was completed by Robert Kubica, who finished second in WRC 2, and Andreas Mikkelsen, who rejoined today after losing a wheel yesterday.