Northern Ireland’s Kris Meeke won the Neste Rally Finland with a record-breaking drive that set a new mark for the fastest FIA World Rally Championship round in history. His 29.1sec victory over Jari-Matti Latvala broke the Finn’s hopes of a third consecutive success on home ground and established a new speed record. Meeke’s 126.60kph average smashed Latvala’s performance on the same rally 12 months ago by 1.2kph.
Thirty-seven-year-old Meeke became the first British driver to win the Finnish classic and only the sixth non-Nordic victor in its 65-year history. Meeke led for almost every kilometer of the four-day gravel encounter in his Citroën DS 3. To seal a remarkable event for the Abu Dhabi Total team, which is tackling a part-time WRC program in 2016, Ireland’s Craig Breen scored a maiden podium in third. He finished 1min 41.3sec behind Meeke, having claimed his first WRC stage win.
After establishing a solid lead on day one, Meeke stamped his authority on this eighth round of the season with a stunning display in the legendary Ouninpohja stage on day two. He distanced Latvala by more than 13sec in the rollercoaster 33km test and could afford to measure his pace to the Jyväskylä finish.
“It’s a little bit crazy!” said Meeke. “Finland is the home of rallying and Ouninpohja is the Holy Grail of stages and to win both the rally and that stage in the way we did is incredible. I enjoyed it like a little kid, just playing and having fun. It has been exceptional.”
Latvala was demoralised by Meeke’s Ouninpohja performance and settled for second to climb to third in the championship. His only error came on the first day when he punctured a tire after swiping a bank with his Volkswagen Polo R.
Breen, a former WRC junior champion, netted a podium in only his fourth event in a headline World Rally Car. The 26-year-old could not hold back the tears as he crossed the finish of the final stage. “It’s the best day of my life,” he said.
Thierry Neuville held off Hyundai i20 team-mate Hayden Paddon to take fourth by 2.3sec, both drivers unhappy with their car’s handling throughout the rally. Mads Østberg completed the top six in a Ford Fiesta RS. Andreas Mikkelsen finished seventh in a Polo R, the Norwegian hemorrhaging time as he opened the roads in slippery conditions and conceding more seconds after going off the road. WRC 2 winner Esapekka Lappi was eighth with Kevin Abbring and Teemu Suninen completing the top 10.
Ott Tänak’s hopes of grabbing third from Breen ended when he crashed into a ditch on day three. Sébastien Ogier retained the championship lead despite failing to score points in the round after sliding into a ditch.
The WRC switches to asphalt next month with the ADAC Rallye Deutschland, based in Trier, from the 18th to the 21st of August.