At NESTE Rally Finland, the hot and tense fight in WRC 2 category continued on Saturday, while the temperatures in the Finnish forests climbed again above 30 degrees Celsius. The longest day of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship’s eighth round featured eight special stages covering nearly 143 kilometres. ŠKODA youngsters Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen continued the rally in the way they had finished it on Friday evening: The leaders of the WRC 2 category won the first stage of the day.
ŠKODA privateers Eerik Pietarinen/Juhana Raitanen also continued their brilliant performance setting the next fastest time, before the 17 years old Rovanperä fought back in front of ten thousand enthusiastic fans on the famous Kakaristo stage. “The first stage in the morning was quite okay. In the second one I was probably too cautious. Afterwards, I tried to drive like normal,” confessed Kalle Rovanperä. “Normal” meant: He was 7.3 seconds quicker than everybody else in the WRC 2 category. After another fastest time, he brought his ŠKODA FABIA R5 back to the midday service in Jyväskylä with a solid 49.4 seconds lead.
Teammates Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermœn began the Saturday morning with a clear mission, after the damages on their ŠKODA FABIA R5 due to the off road excursion on Friday (which had thrown them back to fourth position) had been repaired by the ŠKODA mechanics. They reduced the gap to third place down to 1.6 seconds already during the first stage of the morning loop. But Hyundai driver Jari Huttunen fought back on the next stage, enlarging the gap again to 3.8 seconds. On the next one Veiby was 2.2 seconds quicker, now only 1.6 seconds separated both WRC 2 drivers.
During the afternoon leg, four stages were waiting for the crews, totalling another 71 kilometres under the unusual hot Finnish sun. O.C. Veiby moved up to the third place in the WRC 2 category, before disaster happened on the 18th stage. He went off the road into retirement.
Meanwhile Rovanperä took two spare wheels in his ŠKODA FABIA R5 to be on the safe side. But on the same 18th stage, under braking he hit a rock hidden in the deep ruts on the racing line. As a consequence the front left suspension of his car collapsed. But Kalle Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen did not give up. They successfully performed an emergency repair at the roadside, cautiously drove the leg’s last stage and managed to bring the car back to service – still holding fourth position in WRC 2 at the end of the Saturday leg!
ŠKODA Motorsport boss Michal Hrabánek commented: “That’s rallying. Kalle and Jonne delivered so far a faultless drive and they really would have deserved to win their home event! O.C. and Stig Rune had bad luck as well going off the road in the same stage. Now we keep our fingers crossed for our local ŠKODA customer team Eerik Pietarinen/Juhana Raitanen for the victory.”
Sunday will bring the final decision at NESTE Rally Finland with four stages, before the winner will reach the podium in Jyväskylä at around 16h00 local time.
Standings NESTE Rally Finland after Day 3 (WRC 2)
1. Pietarinen/Raitanen (FIN/FIN), ŠKODA FABIA R5, 2:21:57.0 h
2. Huttunen/Linnaketo, (FIN/FIN), Hyundai i20, +53.0 sec.
3. Greensmith/Parry (GBR/GBR), Ford Fiesta R5, +2:25.5 min.
4. Rovanperä/Halttunen (FIN/FIN), ŠKODA FABIA R5, +3:11.5 min.
5. Loubet/Landais (FRA/FRA), Hyundai i20, +3:43.3 min.
Number of the day: 18
Disaster hit both ŠKODA junior crews in stage number 18 of NESTE Rally Finland: Kalle Rovanperä broke the suspension, teammate O.C. Veiby went off the road.
The calendar of the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC 2)
Great Britain 04/10/–07/10/2018