Ott Tänak has made a massive statement of intent on the opening forest stage of Rally Finland while Hyundai team-mate Oliver Solberg crashed out.
It’s been a difficult season for Solberg so far who has experienced a litany of mechanical dramas and small driving mistakes.
But Rally Finland may well top the lot as rallies to forget as Solberg crashed his Hyundai on basically the first corner of the stage, just 300 meters from the start-line.
Running wide in a sweeping left-hand bend, the rear wheels of the i20 N Rally1 was lured into a ditch and on such a high-speed rally, that was always going to spell disaster.
The car found something solid and was launched into the air, rolling across the road and coming to rest on its wheels on the other side. But the damage was too great for a visibly frustrated Solberg to continue.
Laukaa began what will be a long Friday of flat-out action in the Finnish forests, where the bone dry conditions represented bad news for the world championship-leading local hero.
Rovanperä has done superbly to negate the disadvantage of running first car onto gravel stages in World Rally Championship rounds of late, but in Finland he could be set to struggle.
Dropping 6.3 seconds to the quickest driver Ott Tänak on SS2, Rovanperä finds himself in sixth overall – 7.8s off the lead – and on a rally as quick as Finland, every tenth of a second really does count.
“There was a lot more cleaning than I was expecting,” he said, “there was a lot of loose [gravel] so not easy.”
Tänak, starting three cars behind Rovanperä, had no such worries. Second overnight behind team-mate Thierry Neuville – who lost 2.3s to Rovanperä to slide to fifth overall – Tänak set the timing screen alight to blast into the lead.
“No doubt it will be cleaning a lot of Kalle and Thierry, so we need to take the advantage at the moment,” he confessed.
But given he has written his victory chances off at every opportunity possible this weekend, this was yet more evidence that the Hyundais could well be a factor.
“For sure it’s not comfortable in the car but that’s the only way to go fast, so we need to feel uncomfortable today!”
Esapekka Lappi was the closest driver to Tänak on SS2, but the Toyota driver still lost 2.7s to the two-time Finland winner. However he admitted he was “not really” surprised by that.
“The time is pretty OK, I’m pretty satisfied for that,” said Lappi. “I know I can be better so not a problem.”
Craig Breen was an encouraging third fastest for M-Sport, but despite being 1.1s slower on the stage Elfyn Evans is 0.8s ahead of Breen still in third place.
Breen clipped a hay-bale on Thursday’s street stage and his run on SS2 wasn’t totally drama-free either.
“I had a small little problem with the intercom,” he said, “I have only one ear bud working so a little bit distracted, but a quite OK start.”
Neuville is 0.6s behind Evans overall, feeling his “driving was good” on SS2 “but as soon as the road gets more flat I have no grip, we are sliding”.
He’s another four tenths up on Rovanperä overall.
Adrien Fourmaux set an impressive pace to hold seventh place overall for M-Sport, beating team-mate Jari Huttunen by 2.5s on the stage.
Huttunen is eighth overall on his first event in a Rally1 car.
“A lot of learning,” he said, “some places I’m braking absolutely too early and some places I’m properly sideways. A lot of learning, but step by step I hope.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet is just one tenth behind overall, but had a small scare when he “touched a rock on the apex that wasn’t there on the recce, I think someone put it there”.
Takamoto Katsuta had been third heading onto SS2 after Thursday night’s Harju stage, but he’s slipped to 10th overall after it due to a spin at a junction late on the stage.
Approaching a quick left kink before a square right, the rear gradually got away from Katsuta through the left and he had to quickly spin his Toyota around at the junction.
“It’s OK, maybe a few seconds I lost but not so bad,” he said.
It was indeed just a small time loss, as Katsuta shared the same stage time as Neuville. But what about the hybrid issues that left Katsuta a bit animated after SS1?
“Yeah, I feel the power that’s good, so thank you to the team [for fixing it].”
Gus Greensmith is 1.4s behind in 11th overall.