Tänak leads Rally Finland overnight

The three-time Rally Finland winner heads Thierry Neuville and Kalle Rovanperä after the opening Harju street stage

WRC – World Rally Championship 2023

Three-time winner Ott Tänak got his Rally Finland off to the best possible start by winning the opening Thursday-night Harju superspecial. He holds a 0.6-second lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville ahead of Friday’s first full day of stages.

Tänak’s quickest time through the 2.16-mile mixed-surface street stage marked the end of world champion Rovanperä’s streak of 13 consecutive stage wins after his unbeaten run through the Saturday and Sunday of Rally Estonia.

After the disappointment on his home rally two weeks ago, M-Sport driver Tänak promised to do everything he could to secure a fourth Rally Finland win.

“We need to risk and a lot more,” he said. “We will try, we will push all in, so let’s see where it gets us. The ones we are fighting are very, very strong obviously. So we need to put everything on the line.”

Neuville, second on Rally Estonia and benefiting from the weight saving of not carrying a spare wheel, said: “We are looking forward to tomorrow. The only thing we can do is wish ourselves a lot of luck!”

Hometown hero Rovanperä had a slightly untidy run, clipping a kerb, but still coming in just 0.1s behind Neuville.

“The kerb was not so bad, it was quite small,” he said, adding of the atmosphere: “Amazing feeling, I can almost hear the people inside the car.”

Esapekka Lappi, looking to repeat his 2017 victory, was fourth fastest in the second Hyundai, 1.8s off the pace. He was just 0.1s faster than Rovanperä’s Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans, winner of the event in 2021.

Pierre-Louis Loubet (M-Sport) impressed on his way to the sixth fastest time, just 2.2s down on his team-mate. “It was an OK run,” he said, reckoning he could have done better.

Takamoto Katsuta, on his second home rally, was seventh fastest, a further 0.9s back but 1.5s clear of Teemu Suninen, making his second start in the Hyundai i20 N Rally1. “The first stage wasn’t the best for us,” Suninen admitted. “I think it was OK but nothing more.”

On his first WRC start for more than three years, Jari-Matti Latvala had a careful run through the stage, 8.1s off the ultimate pace. The regular Toyota team principal, who has won the event three times, was clearly enjoying himself. “Fantastic car to drive!” he said. “I’m happy to be back.”

In WRC2, home driver Jari Huttunen set the pace in his Škoda Fabia RS, despite reporting that he made a “small mistake – we just touched a rock but I think it’s OK.”

Early runner Nikolay Gryazin (Škoda) was 1.1s back, with Estonia winner Andreas Mikkelsen, who hasn’t competed on the event since 2019, third, a further 0.6s slower.