How do you call a day consisting of a little more than 40 kilometers of special stages? It’s less than what some stages had in length in recent years! You call it day 1 of 2013 Rally Finland, and despite it lacking kilometers it certainly did not lack action.
Short stages did not offer the typical Finnish conditions. Instead of being dry and very smooth, stages were mostly quite rough and wet thanks to rain. So rather than being a gravel grand prix, day 1 turned into a classic rallying, with plenty of traps and tricky sections along the way.
Jari-Matti Latvala was first and so far the only to pay the big price in Finland – he made a mistake on the second stage of the event, damaging the suspension. DIY repairs only delayed the inevitable, and Latvala was forced to retire before the end of the day.
Short stages also turned gaps into barely noticeable differences, so the leading 12 crews are within a minute! More importantly, there is less than 10 seconds separating the top three. After six stages, Thierry Neuville leads the standings with just 5.2 seconds advantage over Sebastien Ogier, who in turn has only 3.7 seconds of free air between himself and Mads Ostberg.
There was drama on the penultimate stage of the day. Heavy rain turned gravel into slippery mud, and on top of that cars were running in close groups, separated by longer gaps. Biggest victim of this unusual experiment was Mikko Hirvonen – he was joint leader for three stages, but on the SS 5 he lost 16 seconds and dropped down the order. Currently Mikko is fourth, 13.8 seconds behind Neuville.
Many timing errors also marked this day of rallying. Missing splits, missing stage times, wrong stage times, you name it, they had it. Many voices were raised again, but whether that will be enough to prompt FIA to launch yet another investigation remains to be seen.