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Ott Tänak was the early leader of Neste Rally Finland after winning Thursday night’s opening stage in the host town Jyväskylä.

The Ford Fiesta driver was quickest through the 2.31km street stage in the centre of Jyväskylä by 1.1sec from Thierry Neuville.

The Estonian delighted the legions of fans who have made the short journey to Finland to cheer him on and sported a broad grin at the finish of the mixed surface test.

“It’s the kind of event where you can smile,” said Tänak, ahead of three days of furious action on blisteringly fast rollercoaster gravel roads.

“I have big respect for these roads. They are very challenging, but when you have a good feeling, it can be so enjoyable.”

Meeke shakedownNeuville and Sébastien Ogier are engaged in a fierce duel for the title with five rounds remaining, and first blood went to the Belgian Hyundai i20 driver, who edged Ogier by 0.4sec.

“It’s going to be a difficult event. The main thing is to enjoy it, stay in a close battle with Seb and finish ahead of him at the end,” said Neuville.

Craig Breen was fourth, the Irishman delighted with the performance of his Citroën C3 after a dismal weekend at the previous round in Poland earlier this month.

Jari-Matti Latvala and Hayden Paddon were fifth and sixth in a Toyota Yaris and i20.

Esapekka Lappi clipped some tyres with his Yaris at a chicane that was tighter than expected. Team-mate Juho Hänninen was safely through after smashing through a chicane during this morning’s shakedown, requiring a new radiator to be fitted before the start.

Drivers face a marathon of almost 16 hours tomorrow as the rally enters the forests for the first time. They tackle 12 stages covering 145.71km, the day ending with a repeat of Harju.

End of Day 1 (Thursday):
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1m44.1s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1.1s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1.5s
4 Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC): +1.6s
5 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.2s
6 Hayden Paddon/Seb Marshall (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2.5s
7 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2.7s
8 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) +3.0s
9 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3.1s
10 Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +3.5s
13 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5.7s

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