Victory for the Frenchmen, in front of the Finnish crowd and ahead of all those Finnish drivers. Another fantastic edition of Rally Finland is over but once again, there were no Finnish flags on the podium. Amusingly, Finns are not amused by this and they really should not be. It’s their home event and they should at least be there to spray some champagne from the lower steps of the podium, at least. Easier said than done, that’s for sure! Jari-Matti Latvala had an off on the first day of the event while Mikko Hirvonen suffered in the ruts on the penultimate stage on Friday, only to be forced to control his pace and have a clean run for points after several scares and almost-rolls. The fact is, they were both fast as expected, but it wasn’t meant to be and they ultimately failed to capitalize on the fact that they should be quite familiar with most of the stages. It’s not how rally works. Jari-Matti screwed up, not much else to say, even though he fought hard on day 2 and 3. Mikko, on the other hand, tried and pushed before the incident on the muddy and rut infested Friday stage. He still kept trying, but several scares and near-offs served as a wake up call – Citroën needed the points. He settled down, kept his pace and looked to seize any opportunity, but mainly focusing on bringing the car safely home. As much as we all love and respect the flat-out approach, in the end, points matter, and solid finishes, much much more than just excellent drives and dramatic rolls. It’s rally!
The epic battle for second was epic. Thierry Neuville, what a monster. He’ll put on his hipster glasses, smile and then destroy you out on the stages. Which is exactly what he did to Mads Ostberg, even though Mads put up massive fight. In an event such as this, tiny bits separate perfect runs from horrible ones. At high speeds, single mistake sends you into wild spins and rocks are always happy to nibble at your tyres, if given the opportunity. Mads had a great rally, even though he wasn’t able to match Thierry up until the very end. Young Norwegian was very similar to Mikko I believe – when it became obvious that everything he worked for until that point would be risked if he pushed any harder, he settled for podium and points. I do believe that’s the proper way to re-start your campaign – all it takes to crash is too much speed, but it takes some brains to keep the wheels spinning AND the points flowing. Wow, what a poem, eh?
Kris Meeke, what a blast. Fast, furious and totally in control, with lots to prove. He commanded respect and admiration for most part of the event – seriously, after such a long break, and for the first rally in a new (for him) car, he did a terrific job. But then came the crash. The same crash Mikko Hirvonen and Mads Ostberg were able to avoid. Same crash Evgeny Novikov was shamed for, when he smacked into those logs. Kris is a rally driver with massive WRC potential, and his performance in Finland surely is a sign to future employers. Crash was a bitter disappointment, no doubt, but it was a one-off event, so why not push for more? He did, it didn’t work out, but the message he sent out is clear. He can beat many other drivers, if given the chance.
In the meantime, preparations are already underway for 2014 Rally Finland. No doubt, Finnish drivers will try to put things back in correct order after all these years (no podium for 10 years!) – expect many wildeyed, determined and massively motivated Finnish crews next year! VICTORY OR BUST!