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A Fantastic Showdown to a Spectacular Rally - Neste Oil Rally Finland, 2013

On the final day with only 8 stages left, totalling to 130.20 km, and with the first stage SS16 Surkee 14.95 kms scheduled at 8:26 loc...

On the final day with only 8 stages left, totalling to 130.20 km, and with the first stage SS16 Surkee 14.95 kms scheduled at 8:26 local time. Overnight the rally stewards decided to change the stage time for Chris Meeke, as he was blocked by Evgeny Novikov in SS8, yesterday and hence lost a lot of time, also with a damage to the front of his car and windscreen.

SS16 Surkee 1 - 14.95 km, and it was Mini WRC driver Riku Tahko who was the first into the stage, "Was nice , no problems, quite nice to drive there," said the local boy at the of the stage, after a clean run. Next was Jari-Matti Latvala, "We touch something on the right hand corner going uphill… The main thing is to enjoy driving, it is nice to get to the Ouninpohja," says the VW's Flying Finn.

It was much of a clean run for most of the drivers, except to Kris Meeke  who had a 360 spin, "At the last junction I lost maybe 10-seconds. I think it was the right decision (Stewards decision to change his time on stage 8), but yesterday was yesterday and today is today." Mads Ostberg took the stage win with a 2 seconds gap from the Finns', Mikko, while Sebastien Ogier with 5.5secs down said, "I am not in a position to take a risk, I took a bit of time to start my day. The first one I prefer to start like that and get the rhythm."

SS17 Leustu 1 - 9.65 km, Volkswagen driver Latvala was not quite confident with his car and says, "Its okay, generally happy with everything. On this stage I was trying to be more precise with the driving style. I realise that I need more kilometres in the car on fast roads." Meeke, Mikko and Mads were feeling better than the other guys who drove through earlier, while Thierry Neuville enjoying his outing in the Finnish forest roads to a stage win, said, "The rhythm is very good, that was a very good stage, not perfect but it was good. There are small mistakes in the stage, over the jump the car went sideways and I had to lift the throttle, I lose 1 or 2 seconds. Now we should fight once for a good position."Again Ogier was cautiously picking up his speed and rhythm, as he had a good gap between the nearest contestant.

SS18 Ouninpohja 1 - 33.01 km, the legendary stage with blind crests and super-fast gravel road in a World Rally Car, and it happened to be a bit of a slippery conditions to Novikov, Tahko, Juho Hanninen, and Latvala,and Dani Sordo had a little moment on a hairpin, had to reverse to continue. A.Mikkelsen was happy with his drive and said, "To drive it in the Volkswagen is amazing, the amount of grip you have with this tyre is amazing. Hopefully next year we can go maximum attack!", so did Kris Meeke who was for the first time in a WRC car, that too after a gap of 7 years, said, "I always dreamt of Finland in a world rally car and the Citroen have given me the chance."

Mikko was okay with his outing, and Thierry had a small scare, as he explains, "I just hit very slightly the barrier, otherwise good time." Mads was not really happy with his pace through the stage and Ogier was loving it, "I said I dream to do this stage in a world rally car and that was just amazing… We can go even a bit faster this afternoon," and took the stage win to his kitty.

SS19 Painaa 1 - 7.49km, was last stage left to mid-day service, and most importantly the second run of this stage was the final Power Stage of the rally so it became a priority test for everyone. But not very good omen for Tahko, as he hardly had any rubber left on this wheels, Juho was enjoying the stage, and so did Latvala and the rest of the cars. The podium contenders had mixed outcome on their first outing, and it was Mads once again, who took the stage win. Ogier was not clear on his real motive here, as he said, "I just drive through. We will see, I don't think we need anymore points (from the power stage)."

After a much needed good service break, both cars and crews, the first stage of afternoon, SS20 Surkee 2, and it was Riku Tahko in his Prodrive John Cooper Works Mini WRC who started the re-run of the morning stages, and was a bit okay and not! Juho explains, "Okay rough, but this is normal, more than 100 cars went through… For sure you can do much faster." Latvala was gaining confidence as he progressed through the day and was feeling better at the end of SS20. PG Andersson had his car a bit tweeked setup and was gaining confidence too.

Evgeny explains his setup, "We changed the diff (in service)." Sordo was a bit too cautious due to his soft tyres, said "Little bit of this stage very broken, the car touch everywhere (bottoming)." Mikko had his share of scare, "Its alright. There is so much rock, we hit one rock, we did not know it was there. We did the gamble with the tyre and hopefully it will help us." Weird feeling for Thierry "I thought I had a puncture, rear left. I had to be a bit more careful towards the end, I was not sure. I was pushing and I felt something on the rear, so I slow down a bit." For Mads and Ogier it was okay stage as they were more into car saving mode, though funnily Ogier was the quickest through the test.

JWRC podium ceremony
SS21 it was quite a disaster for Jarkko Nikara who knocked his front right wheel off his Mini WRC, said "There was something in the ruts, I try to take quite carefully but I hit something." It was a scary ride for Mikko said, "We nearly rolled, it is so bumpy, it was just one rut, it was a massive hole. It jumped completely on 2 wheels..", Mads, "We had a half spin at a junction, I just don't know what happened. That was not good. It felt like I lost the power", Sebastien Ogier, "It's okay, no problem at all, but for sure there are some sections that are so rough", Neuville, "Thats good, we try, but it is very rough, we have to be careful in some places, We must do really well there (next stage). We have some tyre wear with the new differential, I struggle a little bit with this", and takes the stage win.

SS22, Ouninpohja 2, the re-run of classic and Latvala explains his experience, "Its very difficult, it was a pretty good stage for me. The tyres started moving towards the end. It was one of my best runs through Ouninphja." Andersson explains, "I was quite careful as I clipped a rock early on and this is one of those stages where you don't want to have a flat turning in." Russian Rocket Novikov, "Of course we tried, but you have to be very confident here with the pace notes to drive 100%."

It was a rally disaster for Kris Meeke as he rolled his Citroen DS3 WRC, his follower Mikko Hirvonen explains, "It was just slippy, it was still damp in some places, especially in the small road in the end. We had to slow down a little bit where Chris (Meeke) was off." Mads Ostberg explains his scare "Maybe 25 kilometres into it, there was a massive rock in the road, so I had to go off the road to avoid it. The stone was far too massive and I had to avoid it otherwise it would have been the end of the rally."

Thierry Neuville who was flat-out all the rally, says "It was very, very fast everywhere, but then I got the split from Mads (Ostberg) and when I see the car of Chris (Meeke) off the road, I slow down. There is possibility to be quicker. It is very easy to drive, I just love this car." Sebastien Ogier had a big hit on a front tyre but still inflated, says "A lot of tyre but the tyre were completely gone at the end. Still we got the (stage) record here. The rear of the car was sliding a lot." and took the stage win to his records.

In the WRC2, Jari Ketomaa was enjoying, though a bit cautiously, Hayden Paddon said "Just thought we had a puncture… Quite a funny feeling with the car moving all over the place." Former F1 driver Robert Kubica says, "We driving safe mode. Everything okay."

Finally in the Power Stage SS23 Painaa 2, the re-run of  the morning stage, Thierry Neuville goes pedal2metal and win's the bonus 3 points "Unbelievable the feeling, I think we have done a very good job. A good clean run, smooth run. We can do a big party tonight. I could not imagine, but the car was so nice, with this budget to beat the Citroen and the other Ford team it is unbelievable."

Jari-Matti Latvala takes the final bonus point, said "It's not going to give me 3-points… " Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen) 3:50.8 "We overshot 2 junctions a little bit, but it is finished now. We had our moments, we got to the finish in the end."
A much happier Mads Ostberg with his roller coaster ride to a third on the podium, "It has been a very good weekend and it has been good to be back and fight for a rally a whole weekend. We end up being 3rd, still it is very nice to be back and build the confidence back up. I was really looking forward to Finland, it has been difficult season so far. It has been fantastic."

Sebastien Ogier takes the two bonus points and most importantly, the Rally Victory says, "I am so happy to join Didier (Auriol) for the French one (non-Finnish rally winners). It has been a fantastic weekend. This weekend is just perfect, another big step to the title!"

It is a shame of what happened with Kris Meeke, who showed his potential but hit a DNF. Despite his first outing in 7 years, and first in a WRC car, he has shown the incredible speed, and definitely deserves a pat on the back. Well done! And what a performance by the young Belgian, who by just with 20 WRC starts has started commanding a podium finishes. Well done Thierry!

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