Fast start for Atkinson as Loeb leads in Finland
- 3rd August 2012, 9:16am
The Queenslander is seventh overall and is just 15.6 seconds off the lead after the first three stages of the fastest WRC event of the year.
Sebastien Loeb holds an advantage of 7.3s ahead of Friday’s action getting underway with the 12.75-kilometre Urria stage at 07:42hrs local time.
Loeb, who chose to run 10th on the road following Wednesday night’s Qualifying Stage, set the pace through the opening Koukunmaa run to take a lead of 1.6s to the Jokimaa superspecial, which Petter Solberg won in his Ford World Rally Team Fiesta RS WRC to narrow the Frenchman’s advantage to 1.5s.
But a stunning time by Loeb through stage three, the 14.22-kilometre Mynnila test, has enabled the world championship leader to edge slightly clear in his bid for a third victory in Finland.
“I feel well in the car at the moment and I tried really hard,” said Loeb. “I know I can fight for the victory, the feeling was good and I took the opportunity to go flat out. But there are a lot of Finnish drivers wanting the victory as well so I will try my best.”
Finns Jari-Matti Latvala and Mikko Hirvonen are tied on time in second and third places respectively with Solberg slipping to sixth after he struggled through stage three with traction issues. Rising stars Mads Ostberg, who was second fastest through stage three, and Thierry Neuville - third quickest on stage one - are fourth and fifth respectively heading to the overnight halt in Jyvaskyla.
Atkinson is seventh overall ahead of Russian Evgeny Novikov and Estonia’s Ott Tanak. Meanwhile, Jari Ketomaa said he struggled for rear-end grip on high-speed corners, which resulted in a few brief off-road moments. The Finn completes the top 10 for the Autotek Motorsport squad.
Matti Rantanen stalled the engine of his Fiesta at the start of stage one before opting for a cautious approach on his first event since Rally Finland 12 months ago. He is 14th overnight. Ken Block momentarily tipped his Monster World Rally Team Fiesta onto two wheels when he ran wide into a bank on the opening test. The Rally Finland newcomer and Gymkhana star, who is 17th overall, said he needed to work on improving his pace notes.
Finnish privateer Riku Tahko, competing in a World Rally Car for the first time, was the fastest of the three MINI John Cooper Works WRCs through stage one as WRC Team MINI Portugal drivers Armindo Araujo and Paulo Nobre concentrated on refining set-up and gaining confidence with their pace notes on the high-speed gravel stages. However, Tahko dropped behind Araujo on stage three as he struggled to see through his windscreen - damaged on the superspecial - in the low-lying sun.
Sebastian Lindholm, the 51-year-old Finnish veteran, spent the day opening the road at the head of the field in his privateer Fiesta and reported that he struggled in the slippery conditions caused by the loose surface gravel. Martin Prokop also complained about the lack of grip starting sixth on the road. The Czech is 11th overall, one place ahead of Volkswagen Motorsport’s Sebastien Ogier.
Impressive Finnish wildcard Esapekka Lappi, 21, moved into the lead of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship division with the fastest category time on the Jokimaa superspecial in Lahti and extended his advantage over title leader Hayden Paddon with another strong run through Mynnila. PROTON driver P-G Andersson is third in class with Craig Breen fourth.
Elfyn Evans topped the FIA WRC Academy after two stages with a lead of 5.3s over fellow Briton Alastair Fisher.
Of the other Australasian drivers competing at Rally Finland Brendan Reeves sits third in the WRC Academy field in the one-make Ford Fiesta R2 category, Molly Taylor is fourth in her class in a two-wheel drive Citroen and Kiwi Hayden Padden is second in the Super 2000 category in a Skoda.
Friday’s action in Finland includes nine stages covering 133.82km.
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