Belfast Telegraph

Seconds out as Meeke fights for another victory in Rally Finland

Tight battle: Kris Meeke is just two seconds off the lead
Tight battle: Kris Meeke is just two seconds off the lead

By Sammy Hamill

Kris Meeke was in second place just two seconds off the lead after a frantic first day of Rally Finland.

Aptly dubbed 'the Finnish Grand Prix' the rally is the fastest gravel event in the World Championship and it lived up to its name with the top half dozen drivers flat out through the forests and frequently separated by just tenths of a second.

Meeke, the winner in Finland in 2016, was back on form after the summer break following a mediocre finish to the first half of the season and trading times with his Toyota team-mates Jari Matti Latvala and Ott Tanak as well as Citroen's Esapekka Lappi, who won in 2017.

Just three seconds covered the top four, Latvala leading from Meeke with former Circuit of Ireland winner Lappi in third ahead of Tanak who, as Championship leader, had the disadvantage of running first on the gravel roads during the opening leg.

But he was happy, last year's winner saying: "I did my best in the circumstances and I'm not so far away. But we have no team orders so we will have to see what happens."

Craig Breen also enjoyed an encouraging day on his debut with the Hyundai team, the Waterford driver in fifth, a further 10 seconds behind the front-running quartet.

For now it is just a one-off appearance with the Korean team, Breen standing in for Dani Sordo and Sebastien Loeb, who opted to skip the ultra-fast stages. After the first leg he was the leading Hyundai driver ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen (sixth) and their main Championship contender Thierry Neuville, who was back in eighth place.

Sandwiched between them was Citroen's world champion Sebastien Ogier but such was the closeness of the battle he was just 16 seconds behind leader Latvala.

Completing the top 10 were the two M-Sport Ford Fiestas of Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith, who has replaced the injured Elfyn Evans.

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