Jyväskylä, FINLAND— Kris Meeke set the fastest average speed ever in the World Rally Championship for an overall rally when he won the Neste Rally Finland on Sunday, becoming the first British driver ever to win the event. The Northern Irishman drove a strong rally, beating Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala by 29.1 seconds.
Meeke’s average speed of 78.7 miles per hour was faster than Latvala’s winning speed last year by 0.75 miles per hour. The defending rally winner settled for second place after being beaten by Meeke on the lightning quick Ouninpohja stage on Saturday morning. The Citroen driver went 13.4 seconds faster than Latvala over the 20.5-mile section.
Meeke said his win was incredible and that he took pleasure from his drive.
“It’s a little bit crazy,” Meeke said. “Finland is the home of rallying and Ouninpohja is the Holy Grail of stages and to win both the rally and that stage in the way we did is incredible. I enjoyed it like a little kid, just playing and having fun. It has been exceptional.”
Citroen had another podium finisher, as Craig Breen, in just his fourth start in a full WRC car, brought the DS3 home third, 1:41 behind Meeke. Breen actually won the penultimate stage by 0.1 seconds over Hayden Paddon.
Breen was joyful as he crossed the line, and said nothing has topped this finish.
“It’s the best day of my life,” Breen said.
Hyundai rounded out the top five, with Belgium’s Thierry Neuville leading home teammate Paddon by 2.3 seconds. The duo finished 1:45 and 1:48 behind Meeke, and said their cars’ handling through the rally was an issue.
“I tried my best,” Neuville said. “A very tight fight with Paddon. We’ve both been struggling with settings and grip. Our performance was right there – we did our best.”
Mads Østberg drove a decent rally to finish sixth for Ford, just over two minutes behind.
Andreas Mikkelson had a tough rally to finish seventh. The Norwegian opened the second day of stages in slippery conditions, losing time, before falling off the road at the start of stage 14 on the second day.
Dutchman Kevin Abbering, who replaced the injured Dani Sordo, wound up ninth, 5:22 behind Meeke. Esapekka Lappi finished eighth for Skoda, winning the WRC-2 category, less than 30 seconds ahead of Abbering. Teemu Suninen came tenth and second in WRC-2, more than two minutes behind class winner Lappi and nearly seven behind Breen.
WRC Points leader Sébastien Ogier wound up out of the points in 24th after a mishap on the first day. Three stages from the end of the first leg, he put the car in the ditch. Added on top of that a two minute penalty for being late to time control at stage 13, and Finland was a weekend to forget.
Ogier leads Latvala in the points, 36 to 28 after the event. Meeke sits third with 21, but with his second win this season, he is tied with Ogier for most victories. With six rounds left, the championship is not won just yet.
RESULTS: World Rally Championship; Rally Finland; Final—Top 10; July 31, 2016
- Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle
- Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Antilla
- Craig Breen/Scott Martin
- Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul
- Hayden Paddon/John Kennard
- Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene
- Andreas Mikkelson/Anders Jaeger
- Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm
- Kevin Abbering/Sebastian Marshall
- Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markula