Craig Breen won the first forest stage of Rally Finland but it was Ott Tänak who moved into the lead at the expense of Takamoto Katsuta, who remarkably saved a high-speed spin towards the end of the stage.
Katsuta – who is being co-driven by Aaron Johnston for the first time this weekend – led the rally heading onto Ässämäki courtesy of a stage win on the Harju street stage.
The Toyota junior was on course to lose that lead on SS2 anyway, as he ran three seconds down on the splits, before he escaped a major moment on a high-speed left-hander over a crest.
Katsuta ran wide, hooked the rear wheels of his Yaris WRC into a ditch on the outside of the bend and slid down the stage, seemingly out of control.
Luckily, the camber of the road seemed to help Katsuta gather up his moment as the front of the car slid round and did a full 360-degree rotation.
His engine stalled and he dropped 20s, and therefore fell from first down to 10th position, but Katsuta was aware it could’ve been a lot worse.
“[On] just a very, very high-speed corner there was a bump on the inside and it kicked out from the bump, I went [into the] outside the ditch,” he said.
“Luckily we didn’t hit anything but OK we are here, that can happen on this rally.”
Breen – who was unhappy with his run on Harju – had a far better experience as the rally headed onto gravel, beating Hyundai team-mate Tänak by 0.3s on Ässämäki to vault from eighth to second spot, 0.7s down on the lead.
Asked how he was feeling, Breen said: “On top of the bloody world. It’s just so, so nice. I don’t have the words for it, it’s just absolutely amazing.”
Toyota’s challenge on SS2 was headed by Elfyn Evans, who set an encouraging time just 1.2s down on Breen’s stage-winning effort.
Esapekka Lappi – who was fifth fastest behind Kalle Rovanperä – sat fourth overall on his first outing in the WRC’s top class since December 2020. He ended the stage trailing the rally leader by 3.8s, with Rovanperä just another 0.1s further back.
“I’m not really happy with this,” said Lappi, who dropped 4.2s on the stage. “The guys are quite crazy, they are cutting quite a lot and I didn’t have this in my pacenotes so that’s why we’re losing time.”
Rovanperä wasn’t elated either, admitting the unseasonal fall date for this rally was having a profound effect.
“The grip level is really difficult this year because the road is very compact in many places and the grip is difficult to drive,” he explained.
Thierry Neuville “struggled a bit with understeer” on SS2 “but other than that I had an OK stage”. He stopped the clocks 5.7s slower than his team-mate Breen, with a time 0.7s poorer than Sébastien Ogier.
Ogier however was slower than Neuville on the short SS1 so is therefore 0.2s behind in seventh overall.
Without a pre-event test and having shown poor form on high-speed rallies, M-Sport has been expected to struggle in Finland and that certainly seemed to be the case on SS2.
Gus Greensmith was the quicker of the two Fiestas but 9.8s down on Breen, while Adrien Fourmaux admitted he “just needs to find a way to be faster” as he acclimatizes to a new co-driver relationship alongside Alexandre Coria.
“Compared to the first stage it’s completely different, huh?” Fourmaux added in reference to his first forest Finland stage in a World Rally Car.
Overall, Fourmaux ended SS2 five seconds behind his team-mate, 17.3s down on the lead with 3.2s in hand over Katsuta.
1 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) 5m44.8s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.3s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +1.2s
4 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2.7s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota) +4.2s
6 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +5s
Leading positions after SS2
1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 7m35.2s
2 Breen/Nagle (Hyundai) +0.7s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +1.8s
4 Lappi/Ferm (Toyota) +3.8s
5 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +3.9s
6 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +5.2s
7 Ogier/Ingrassia (Toyota) +5.4s
8 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +12.3s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +17.3s
10 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +20.5s