*Estonian leads all-new winter spectacular in factory Hyundai after opening leg
*Former world champion fastest on Friday’s two stages east of Rovaniemi
*Rovanperä is best-placed Finn for Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
*Flying Finn Lappi leads WRC2, Lindholm in front in WRC3
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja delivered a winter-driving masterclass to lead Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox following the opening two action-packed stages in the frozen forests of Lapland today (Friday).
Competing in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC, the Estonian pair were fastest on both runs through the 31.05-kilometre Sarriojärvi test, which provided a stern challenge as round two of the 2021 FIA World Rally Championship got underway on spectacular ice-coated roads east of host city Rovaniemi.
After beating their Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team team-mates Craig Breen and Paul Nagle on the first pass – held this afternoon – by 3.6s, the 2019 WRC champions were 9.8s quicker than Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen, their closest challengers on the after-dark rerun.
Unlike the bulk of his rivals, Tänak opted to carry one spare Pirelli Sottozero Ice tyre in his Hyundai and took full advantage of the weight saving (some 23 kilograms) and his seventh-place road position to make the perfect start to Finland’s all-new world championship event.
However, he did concede that preserving his tyres became a chief concern, particularly when sections of gravel emerged on the road on SS2. He drove even more impeccably as a result.
“It’s still very, very early so no reason yet to think about anything,” said Tänak, who holds a 16.2s overnight advantage. “It’s been challenging and let’s say a typical rollercoaster for Finland, a very technical and up and down stage, so it was a big job. At the moment we are leading but the road position was different to the Toyota guys and everything can change tomorrow, so we just need to keep focused and keep pushing. On the second loop for sure [the road position benefited us]. With the lines like this I’m sure Seb [Ogier] was not really enjoying.”
Behind Tänak, Breen, who is making his first start of 2021, has been on impressive form although he felt he could have gone faster still on SS1.
Rovanperä, meanwhile, lost time when he slid into a snowbank on the first stage and then reported dropping further precious seconds when his Toyota Yaris WRC began to understeer on SS2.
After going fourth fastest on SS1, Thierry Neuville and new-for-2021 co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe languished in seventh on SS2. “I had a lot of understeer towards the end,” Neuville said after the run. “I took out a bit of speed at some point and I really struggled to turn. Also, with Martijn we are still working and sometimes I struggled to really clearly understand so we need to work on that.”
Neuville/Wydaeghe are fourth overall, one place ahead of Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt. Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula are sixth for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team followed by Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt, the Japanese driver reporting a suspected puncture on SS2.
Nineteen-year-old Oliver Solberg is a fine eighth on his World Rally Car debut and his first event with stand-in co-driver Seb Marshall.
World champions Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia, running first on the road and struggling through the loose-surface snow in their Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT entry, are ninth overall with Gus Greensmith/Elliott Edmondson in 10th position.
Co-driven by Vincent Landais, Pierre-Louis Loubet was a strong sixth after SS1, but picked up a slow puncture two kilometres from the start of SS2 and has dropped down the order as a result.
Finns Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm lead WRC2 followed by Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov and Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene. Emil Lindholm/Mikael Korhonen, another all-Finnish pair, lead WRC3.
PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION AND OTHER EVENT INFORMATION: WRC.COM
COMING UP NEXT ON ARCTIC RALLY FINLAND POWERED BY CAPITALBOX
Saturday’s leg, the longest of the rally at 144.04 kilometres, is based around Vanttauskoski close to Rovaniemi, and features three stages used twice with the leg-ending test run at night. The 24.43 kilometres of Mustalampi (SS3), which runs over the top of a frozen swamp at one point, is first on the itinerary from 09:08 local time. Also counting as SS6 from 15:38, Mustalampi, ends with a spectacular charge through a driver training area.
Event website: https://arcticrallyfinland.fi/en/home/
Rally Radio: http://yle.fi/mmralli
More information and media activities:
Linda Hirvonen, National Press Officer, +358 (0) 45 3299696, firstname.lastname@example.org