As the sun rose over Jyväskylä on Sunday morning, there was on question on everybody’s lips: can Kalle Rovanperä catch and beat Ott Tänak for victory on his home turf?
8.4 seconds and 27.29 miles were all that stood in his way, but the opening stage of the day was going to be the first real indication as to whether it would be possible.
Like every morning on a rally weekend, DirtFish was up bright and early, waiting for the drivers as they made their way to the Oittilla test.
Doing some last minute preparations, Rovanperä was cool, calm and collected, but had an air of focus and determination on his face.
He knew how big an ask it was going to be to catch the Hyundai, but would he go for it? He was as coy as ever when Colin Clark put the question to him.
“We will see quite soon.”he said.
Tänak was no different. He admitted the final four stages were going to be an intense battle and his response when asked if he could hold Rovanperä was almost identical to his rival.
“We will find out quite soon.”
An hour later we would have our answer.
As Rovanperä crossed the end of the stage with a time of 5m21.4s, some 5.7s quicker than Thierry Neuville – who had been fastest until that point – it appeared the Toyota driver had laid down the gauntlet and was beginning his charge to claim a last gasp victory.
That was until Tänak entered the stage.
In the first split he was up on Rovanperä by half a second, and as he finished the second split he located another 1.1s. It was mind blowing.
In a car that everyone believes to be sub par compared to the Toyota it defied belief. And watching the onboards it didn’t exactly do anything to dampen that trail of thought.
It was a mesmerizing run. There’s no denying it, Tänak was simply attacking the stage much harder than his rival.
The way the car was moving about, it was easy to see that he was giving his i20 N a much harder time than the Yaris GR was receiving.
But to make up over a second in 2.78 miles? That was some achievement, and there’s also an explanation. He was being brave.
For most of that first split, Tänak was behind Rovanperä, but then coming down into a sharp right-hander, he made it all back up and more.
He braked much later than his rival, but kept it in control and got a strong exit. It gave him a huge amount compared to Rovanperä and allowed him to get ahead.
He was also smoother through the corners.
There were moments where Rovanperä lifted off slightly mid-corner to control the balance of his Yaris, but Tänak didn’t. He just kept his foot planted.
It was a plain sailing run from Tänak. He had a few wild moments, but what was important is that he didn’t let it affect him.
He just pushed through it, as he had done all weekend. Refusing to back off, he corrected the car back on-line and headed straight for the next corner.
It was edge of the seat, box office stuff.
His method of braking late, carrying stupid speeds through the corners and keeping the foot planted even when things started to look like they could go wrong would be a foolish approach to many.
It was of course a gamble, but it was one that paid off.
And the thing that really paid dividends for Tänak was that he had the skill to be able to manage it. He might have had moments, but at no point in that stage did he look out of control. Not once.
It was man and machine on the ragged edge, but not recklessly over the limit.
In the end Tänak won the stage by 1.9s, and as we know, he secured victory in Finland. But that SS19 run set the tone and optimized everything that he has been about this weekend.
On the limit, almost over it, but never losing control. There are no words other than it was simply magical to watch.