Mads Østberg and Torstein Eriksen held onto their provisional runner-up spot at the today’s second leg, contested once again at breakneck speeds in their C3 WRC. Hampered by running third on the road, Craig Breen and Scott Martin nonetheless consolidated their ninth place, whilst Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson unfortunately ran into trouble on the day’s opening stage. With a competitive distance of some 143 kilometres, today’s second leg clearly represented the weekend’s heavyweight challenge, but Mads Østberg produced another fine performance, running in a similar road position to his main rivals.
The Norwegian immediately extended his advantage over Latvala, the third-placed driver, with three consecutive second-fastest times, in the wake of Tänak’s blistering lead pace. Mads even got to within just 3.7s of the Estonian on the 23.66km of the formidable Kakaristo stage, a revamped version of the iconic Ouninpohja test, where plenty of the event’s long history has been written. However, his rivals – at their home event – were more threatening in the afternoon. Despite the pressure, and being weighed down by an extra spare tyre, he showed true fighting spirit to hold onto his second place, with a 5.4s lead over Latvala.
Third in the running order after his puncture in yesterday’s leg, Craig Breen knew what a tough day lay ahead of him, sweeping the fine layer of gravel off the road surface for those further down the order. He was nevertheless able to match the current championship leader, who was also running early in the order. He grabbed any opportunities to show what he could do, as proven by his fifth fastest time, just 2.6s off the stage-winning time, on SS15.
Meanwhile, Khalid Al Qassimi was unfortunately caught out a few kilometres into the opening stage and had to retire for the day. The Emirati driver will nonetheless rejoin the race tomorrow under Rally 2 rules, as he aims to keep improving behind the wheel of the C3 WRC. There are only 45.72km left to cover tomorrow, but with two passes on the Ruuhimäki stage, famous for its series of huge jumps, Sunday’s leg promises to serve up yet more excitement and the Red Army is determined not to miss out on the fun.