Rally of 1000 lakes, or The Gravel Grand-Prix certainly lived up to its name for the 2013 edition. It had everything a rally should have. Unbelievable record breaking speed, massive jumps, crazy drunken fans, a festival atmosphere and a big fight for results! It was 3 days of action packed drama. In the forests and along the many lakes of Finland.
The first day of Rally Finland was certainly full of drama.
Ogier was fastest on the first (Mickey mouse) stage of the rally. But on the next 3 stages, we got something that has never been seen before in the WRC. Two drivers shared joint lead for three stages in a row. Talk about a close fight.
SS2 it was Neuville and Fin Mikko Hirvonen, who both took the lead of the rally. On the following stage, the first of the ‘proper’ Forest stages it was Neuville and Ogier who shared the top spot on the leader board. Then on Stage 4 Neuville continued to hold the leader but once again had to share it with flying Fin Mikko Hirvonen. With Ogier in 2nd. On SS3 VW’s Jari Matti Latvala came wide over a crest and hit a rock, damaging the right rear wheel resulting in broken suspension. After trying to fix it and continue with some serious wheel wobble, the Fin had to retire from his home Rally. Another day to forget for the heart broken fin.
With the rally lead tied it was onto SS5 Himos. Where the heavens opened and the rain turned the gravel to mud. The worst affected was Hirvonen who lost almost 14 seconds and dropped to 5th place. The Fin really wasn’t happy, complaining about the way the organisers put them into groups for the running of that stage. Hirvo being in the last group meant he was the only top WRC car to get caught in the rain.
After day 1 Qatar M-Sports Neuville leads rally Finland with team mate Ostberg in 2nd place. A great day for the Ford boys. 2.5 seconds behind them is VW’s Seb Ogier who said he has had one of the most “Boring” days rallying. But i think Malcolm Wilson would say very much the opposite with his boys leading the way.
The rally, the Stages and the action seemed to get more and more exciting every day. Day 2 had even more drama, With Novikov going off the stage, turning left instead of right after a crest and crashed head on into some logs. Damaging the car, with most of the front end missing. But the relentless russian continued on, despite the massive lack of visibility due to what was left of his Fiesta’s bonnet smashed over the windscreen. But the time lost meant that Kris Meeke (next on the road) was stuck behind Novikov. Meeke lost time and took some damage from stones thrown up into the screen from Novikov’s car. Its fair to say that Meeke was fuming at stage end.
Several drivers had punctures, and Fin Mikko Hirvonen went off and was lucky not to roll the car. A bit of damage but made it to the end of the day. Mikkelsen was now out of the rally after he lost a wheel on the last stage. “I hit nothing, suddenly there was a small vibration and suddenly the wheel flew off… The wheel just fell off, I don’t know why…”
But the one man who avoided trouble and is now in the lead is Volkswagens Sebastien Ogier. After taking it easy at the start and taking his time to build up speed, he pushed when he was comfortable, and backed off when he was unsure, and the Frenchman’s tactics paid off, he now has a 36 second lead going into Day 3. “Really good. It was not so easy, some place were really slippy this afternoon. We had a good rhythm, very happy with this afternoon. Still long tomorrow so for sure it is not over.”
Thierry Neuville ended day 2 in 2nd. “I had to be careful in many places not to puncture the tyre. It has been a tough afternoon. So far no mistake from our side, I have to be very careful but I made it through.”
Mads Ostberg just about managed to finish the day in 3rd. But came to the final stage end with Front left tyre off the rim. “Unbelievable now, just a lottery”
Onto the final day. Now this was where rally finland turned from the gravel grand prix to the gravel roller coaster.
“I had a dream of winning here”…. They were the words that echoed throughout the weekend by Sebastien Ogier. Only 4 non-Scandinavian drivers had won Rally Finland, and Ogier was hoping to join them. The Frenchman had a lead of 36 seconds, but had over 130km’s of stages left to go…. Could he do it?
As Ogier was concentrating on getting to the end with no mistakes, a battle was to be fought out behind him for 2nd & 3rd place between Team mates Neuville and Ostberg. The final day was all about the Ford Qatar M-Sport boys. And with boss Mr. Wilson basically saying that they will have to fight for wins at some point, so this battle will be good experience for them…… The fight was on!
On the first stage of the day, The older Mads Ostberg set the fastest time and took young Neuville’s 2nd place. Thierry dropping to 3rd with a gap of 3.1 seconds between them. Determined to prove he has what it takes, Thierry fought back on the following stages. On SS17 he was 0.9 seconds faster than Mads to close up the gap. Then on the next big stage, the mega Ouninpohja, Neuville again went faster than Mads on the roller coaster of gravel, this time by 2 and a half seconds, reclaiming his 2nd place overall. Putting Mads in 3rd but the gap between them was only 0.3 seconds.
Ouninpohja was the highlight of the rally! One of the Greatest Roads in the world. A real roller coaster ride of tight narrow, fast flowing roads which just gets faster and faster as the drivers blast, right foot too the floor, literally flying just inches away from the tree line. Its said that there are just over 160 jumps over the 33km stage, with an average speed of 130kph. Its just over 15 minutes of flat out driving heaven. The first run through was more of a test for the drivers to get to grips with the road and their pace notes, ready for their 2nd and what will be a much faster run through the stage later on. Seb Ogier set the fastest time through, saying that it was his dream (he had a lot of dreams about this rally it would seem) to drive Ouninpohja in a WRC car. Brit driver Kris Meeke said at the end of it that it was the best 15 minutes of his life! However the slightest mistake will end badly as Ouninpohja bites hard, as Kris will find out later on….
Now back to the M-Sport battle. And on SS19, Painaa. Mads Ostberg fought back hard. And got back 2nd place from Neuville by going fastest on the stage. Thierry was 2nd fastest but dropped 3.1 seconds to his team mate. So once again Thierry Neuville had to close up the gap to Mads, still determined to get that 2nd place. On the following stage, SS20 Neuville took 0.8 seconds out of Mads, closing in to within 2 seconds overall now. Then took a further 1.9 seconds out of him on the next stage and set the fastest stage time. The battle between them just couldn’t be closer. Now only 1 tenth of a second separated Mads Ostberg in 2nd, and Neuville in 3rd!
It was then the re-run of the great Ouninpohja Stage. VW’s Sebastien Ogier set the fastest time and a new Record time of 15:08.9, most likely achieving yet another dream of his. – Remember when i said Ouninpohja bites hard. Well, earlier Kris Meeke said it was the best 15 minutes of his life. His 2nd run through the stage was also very rememberable, but in a very different way. While Meeke had a great weekend and was sitting pretty in 5th place overall. Impressive for a driver who hasn’t competed in a WRC car since his Mini drive in 2011. He got it out of shape with far too much speed going into a corner, running very wide and sliding off the road, rolling up into the air and then crashing back down to earth with a rally ending thump!
With just a tenth of a second to make up , the smallest of mistakes could have ended the M-Sport battle for 2nd place for Neuville. However it was Mads who’s luck ran out. Around 25km’s into the ‘gravel roller-coaster’ Mads had to go ‘off-road’ to avoid a big rock in the middle of the road, which caused him to spin back down to 3rd place overall. Putting and end to the brilliant battle, now with neuville back into 2nd place, 19.7 seconds ahead of Mads Ostberg.
Finally after all the drama, the surviving drivers reached the final Painaa Power Stage. And as if winning the battle for 2nd place wasn’t enough, Thierry Neuville went on to win the Powerstage for 3 extra bonus points. Going faster than Ogier by 0.3 seconds. With Ogier’s Team mate Jari Matti latvala grabbing the last bonus point for 3rd quickest.
And so once again, VolksWagens Sebastien Ogier made yet another dream come true. But this was a big one. Ogier can now put his name up with the best for winning Rally Finland. And putting him another step closer to the 2013 WRC title.
After a brilliant battle and great performance. Qatar M-Sport’s Thierry Neuville finished a well deserved 2nd place just 36.6 seconds behind the leader. And after leading day 1, battling with his team mate and winning the power stage. Neuville is the ‘Driver of the Rally’. His team mate Mads Ostberg had to settle for a successful 3rd place. 57.6 away from the lead. Making it a double podium for Qatar M-Sport and the Ford Fiesta RS WRC.
2. Neuville +36.6
3. Ostberg + 57.6
4. Hirvonen + 1:21.6
5. Sordo +6:08.5
6. Novikov +8:39.7
7. Ketomaa +11:19.2
8. Andersson +11:41.5
9. Kubica +12:48.1
10. Mikklesen +13:42.0
Next rally will be in Volkswagens home land, Rally Germany.