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Breen blow but Ostberg leads Citroen's fight for crucial rally win in Finland

 

By Sammy Hamill

Despite a disastrous start for Craig Breen, Citroen emerged as a major challenger for victory after the first leg of Rally Finland.

Mads Ostberg - who has replaced the sacked Kris Meeke, who won the 2016 Finnish rally, in the French team - was in second place overnight after a day-long duel with the Toyota of Ott Tanak.

The Norwegian was just a handful of seconds behind but Breen was down in ninth, more than a minute off the pace.

The two-time Circuit of Ireland winner, who had high hopes of equalling or bettering his third place of two years ago, clipped a rock on the first of the proper forest stages yesterday morning, puncturing a front tyre of his C3 Citroen and dropping more than 40 seconds.

And his plight didn't get any better when the Citroen suffered brake fade on the 10th stage last night, leaving him a minute and 57 seconds behind leader Tanak.

Ostberg was just four seconds behind the Estonian with Toyota team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala in third, a further 17 seconds behind.

But the battle for the World title swung in the favour of Ford's reigning champion Sebastien Ogier after this year's leader Thierry Neuville put his Hyundai off the road. It cost the Belgian some 20 seconds and he was back in 10th overnight, with Ogier in sixth behind Hyundai's Hayden Patton and the Ford of young Finn Teemu Suninen.

Last year's winner Esapekka Lappi, the 2014 Circuit of Ireland champion, was another driver in trouble after he spun and stalled his Toyota early on.

He was down in eighth behind former Ulster Rally winner Elfyn Evans, who slowed towards the end of the leg to allow Ford team-mate Ogier ahead.

Further back, on his first time in Finland, British Junior champion Callum Devine from Derry was sixth in the WRC Junior category in his R2 Ford Fiesta. The leader was Estonian Ken Torn from Sweden's Emil Berkqvist.

Meanwhile, the Irish Forestry Championship resumes this morning with the only two-day event in the calendar, the Jim Walsh Cork Rally.

New York-based Barry McKenna, leader of the series, heads the entry list in his R5 Ford Fiesta ahead of the WRC Fiesta of former champion Josh Moffett, with Andrew Purcell at three in another R5 Fiesta.

Philip Allen, son of the late NI champion Glenn, makes his Cork debut in Eugene Donnelly's R5 Hyundai.

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