rally finland: wrc points leader kalle rovanpera quickest in shakedown

World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera raised the spirits – and expectations – of his home fans by going quickest on this morning’s Rally Finland shakedown stage alongside Jonne Halttunen.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver set the benchmark on his fourth run through ‘Rannankyla’, which had to be extended by organisers until 12pm local time – a decision that followed a brief stoppage to the action after a team of paramedics were tasked to help a spectator who had reportedly fallen ill.

Rovanpera’s standout time of one minute and 56.1 seconds was five tenths of a second up on countryman Esapekka Lappi who is feeling quietly confident about his silverware prospects given his favourable road position all day Friday. “I am targeting a good result,” said Lappi, “but let’s see how the weekend goes.”

Ott Tanak – a double winner of the high-speed gravel classic, including in 2019 when he clinched the World Rally Championship drivers’ title – was third quickest, a further nine tenths of a second off Rovanpera’s best effort. But despite the promising start, the Estonian appears to be far from happy with the ride and handling of his I20 N Rally1 car. “There is no feeling in the car,” he said. “Finland will be difficult.”

Takamoto Katsuta was the one driver who made the biggest gains and ended up fourth at the wheel of his GR Yaris Rally1. A resident of the Nordic country for the last couple of years, he too has set his sights on challenging for the podium places. “I am very excited – this is my home rally, so I will ty to enjoy and push,” he said.

Hyundai protégé Oliver Solberg got off to a shaky start as he spun on a sweeping left-hander on his opening run, although only his pride was damaged in front of a vocal local support. “I struggled,” said the young Swede. “I don’t have any rear grip but the time was actually quite good considering the spin.” He recovered well and rounded out the top five places after clocking one minute 57.8 seconds.

Reigning Rally Finland champion Elfyn Evans had a steady run to end shakedown 1.7 seconds in arrears of his young Toyota team-mate Rovanpera. Asked if he can retain his crown and record a first victory of the 2022 campaign, the Welshman said: “We’re looking forward to the weekend. It’s always exciting here, so let’s see what it brings. It’s always quite high-speed, so who knows.”

Irishman Craig Breen – on this his twelfth Rally Finland start – was the first of the M-Sport Ford runners in seventh, four tenths to the good over Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville who has already ruled out winning an event Toyota has dominated since the Japanese auto giant re-joined the sport’s top flight in 2017. “I don’t think it is possible – but we will see,” said the Belgian.

A gaggle of Puma Rally1 cars followed, with Pierre-Louis Loubet securing ninth after his sixth go, Adrien Fourmaux tenth, Rally1 debutant Jari Huttunen eleventh and Englishman Gus Greensmith twelfth.

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