Ott Tänak has increased his Rally Finland lead to the largest it’s been all weekend, while Kalle Rovanperä admitted he was “lucky to be here” after momentarily leaving the road.
Vekkula concluded Saturday’s opening loop of four stages and was a completely brand-new stage, never used before in any of the previous 70 Rally Finlands.
Tänak led the rally by 6.8 seconds ahead of SS14; a stage in which he clearly swallowed another brave pill to hustle a Hyundai he’s still not totally happy with to the fastest time.
The 2018 and ’19 Finland winner beat Esapekka Lappi by a strong 2.7s to increase his lead to 9.5s.
“It was a good stage, no moments really,” said Tänak. “It’s all we could do.”
Rovanperä had been on to push Tänak hard for the stage win but in the end was 1.3s slower, suffering a wild moment on the test.
“We tried. We are lucky to be here,” said the championship leader.
“I had one note wrong, a too fast note so we went completely off the road. But that’s rally sometimes, we’re here so all good.”
Rovanperä is 12.9s behind Lappi with Elfyn Evans another five seconds behind.
Thierry Neuville pulled another 1.5s clear of Takamoto Katsuta to establish a 5.2s advantage in fifth place.
“If we can keep P5 we are in our place,” he said. “There’s no secrets, we can’t fight with the guys in the front and it’s not the target anymore either.”
Katsuta may have lost more time but it was a step forward compared to the rest of the morning loop where his deficit to Neuville had been larger. He had no experience of the previous stages in the loop, so the fact Vekkula was brand-new to everyone likely helped.
“It’s a very tricky stage,” Katsuta said, “I’m not happy at all with my driving but I try to improve in the afternoon. Conditions are tricky anyway so better to stay on the road.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith remain close together in seventh and eighth places overall, Loubet holding the position by just 7.4s overall.
He lost two tenths to Greensmith – who felt his pace notes “were way too slow” for the road ahead – on SS14 after a strange moment where Loubet braked on the brow of a crest and the front began to lift, before approaching a sweeping left-hand turn.
Loubet explained: “In the long straight I completely braked, I didn’t hear the note so that’s where we lost the time.”
Jari Huttunen, running outside the top 10, continued to battle with faulty power-steering on SS14, but it turned out the issue was intermittent.
“It’s not nice to drive when you have this kind of issue, it’s a strange issue because sometimes it’s working OK and other times it’s completely OK,” he said.
While the rest of the M-Sport Fords were all split by just 1.7s on stage, Huttunen was 21.2s slower than Adrien Fourmaux whose Puma was fastest on Vekkula.
Former M-Sport driver Teemu Suninen continues to lead the WRC2 category and is ninth overall, but he’s coming under increasing pressure from Emil Lindholm.
Once Mikko Heikkilä retired on Saturday’s second stage, Lindholm had no pressure in second and was able to focus on simply attacking Suninen.
The two Finns head into the afternoon loop 5.7s apart, after Lindholm completed the test 3.9s faster than his compatriot.