After taking the lead on the first stage, Toyota’s Ott Tanak fought off a challenge from Citroen’s Mads Ostberg to claim victory at Rally Finland.
With a lead of 39 seconds after Saturday’s stages, a Tanak win looked almost certain, that is until his teammate Esapekka Lappi crashed out on Sunday morning. Fortunately for Tanak, the pressure was eased slightly as Jari-Matti Latvala, the other remaining Toyota driver, forced Ostberg to start looking behind him rather than trying to close the gap to the leading car. Despite this, Tanak refused to let up and won the final ‘power stage’ by 0.5 seconds, increasing his haul of precious points and keeping him in the hunt for the championship.
It was the battle for second place between Ostberg and Latvala that my Dad and I would see unfold before us as we spectated on the penultimate stage of the rally, ‘Lakauu 2,’ the re-run of the stage which had caught out Lappi earlier in the day.
Latvala’s determination to secure a 1-2 finish for his Toyota team in front of the adoring Finnish fans was clear to see, as he took the stage win in his trademark committed style. My Dad and I were willing him on, although Ostberg’s blistering performance made us question how he had been left without a works drive at the start of the season. In the end, it was Ostberg who took the second step on the podium, with Latvala just 2.8 seconds behind.
As the stage drew to a close, we headed back to the service park in Jyvaskyla for the podium ceremony. We arrived not a moment too soon as the crowds gathered around a large TV screen to see Ott Tanak pull up to the start line on the 23rd and final stage of the rally. He was on the brink of victory on what was effectively his home event, yet nerves didn’t appear to be an issue as he reached speeds of up to 180km/h on the loose gravel. Although when he crossed the finish line and flung his door open to be congratulated by Toyota team principal Tommi Makinen, I’m sure he was at least a little relieved!
The podium ceremony which followed at the service park later that afternoon was memorable for a number of reasons. Firstly, the champagne celebrations are every bit as wild as they look! Also, it was nice to see the drivers showing appreciation for their fans, none more so than Mads Ostberg, who made a group of Norwegians very happy by donating his bottle of champagne to them to say thank you for their vocal support. Finally, it was great to see some British success, with Elfyn Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt putting in a commendable display to finish 7th after being subject to team orders. Even more impressive were the performances of the British crews in the lower classes, with Gus Greensmith/Craig Parry finishing 3rd in WRC2 and 13th overall, Tom Williams/Phil Hall claiming 6th place in the Junior WRC and 26th overall, and lastly Alex Waterman/Harry Thomas coming home in 42nd position and gaining vital experience for their British Rally Championship campaign.
Sunday’s finale to Rally Finland 2018 was a fitting end to four days of intense competition, hard driving and undulating stages. It has left me with no doubt as to why it is one of the standout events on the WRC calendar and one of the greatest tests of car and driver (not forgetting the co-driver, of course). I hope you’ve enjoyed my coverage of the event as much as I’ve enjoyed bringing it to you. Thanks for following!