Competing at Rally Finland as part of its partial World Rally Championship programme, the Abu Dhabi Total WRT enjoyed a dream weekend. Just as in Portugal, Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle took victory at what was the fastest ever WRC rally, covered at a whopping average speed of 126.6kph! Having constantly improved since joining the team at the start of the year, Craig Breen and Scott Martin racked up their first WRC stage win before going on to finish third overall! After two long legs, the final day of Rally Finland was more like a sprint finish. The Lempää (6.83km) and Oittila (10.15km) stages were each run twice, with no service break. Having amassed a healthy 41s lead over Jari-Matti Latvala, Kris Meeke could afford to control his pace, not looking to add to his impressive collection of stage wins. Whilst remaining focused on his own race, the Northern Irishman followed the progress of Craig Breen with great interest. In the third car entered by the Abu Dhabi Total WRT this weekend, Khalid Al Qassimi did much the same. The Emirati driver admitted he found himself unable to fully concentrate on his driving as he was too excited by the prospect of seeing his team-mates finish on the podium at one of the season’s most iconic rallies. Third overall this morning, Craig Breen was tracked by a group of heavyweight challengers: Ott Tänak, Thierry Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Mads Østberg were all within about twenty seconds of the Irishman!
After his stage win on SS21, Tänak had closed to within 4.8s of the Abu Dhabi Total WRT driver. The Estonian’s charge was brought to a halt, however, when he went off the road on the next stage. Slightly unnerved to see his rival stopped by the roadside, Craig eased off, losing a few seconds and allowing Neuville to close to within 6.6s! Buoyed by advice from the team, which encouraged him to defend his position, the Irishman set off on SS23 determined to go for it. At the end of Lempää 2, he claimed his first ever World Rally Championship stage win, a tenth of a second ahead of Paddon! Rally Finland concluded with the Power Stage. Obviously, Kris Meeke made no attempt to fight for the bonus points, preferring to make sure of his third WRC win, adding to the victories he secured in Argentina last year and in Portugal a few months ago. This result, the first time a British driver has won in Finland, was underlined by another record: that of the fastest rally ever. In covering the 333.6km of timed stages in 2:38:05.8, Kris and Paul set a new record average speed of 126.6kph! Sixth in the Power Stage, Craig Breen and Scott Martin retained enough of a lead to complete their dream weekend and claim their first ever WRC podium in only their fifth appearance in a World Rally Car! Meanwhile, Khalid Al Qassimi and Chris Patterson finished in 16th position in the overall standings. Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team will make its next appearance in the WRC at Rally China (9-11 September) with one car entered for Kris Meeke and Paul Nagle.
Kris Meeke (#7): “For a WRC driver, winning Rally Finland is the ultimate goal before becoming World Champion. It’s an incredible feeling to win on the greatest roads in the world. This result was largely determined yesterday with the two runs on Ouninpohja. At the end of the first run, I didn’t know my time but I knew that I had driven really well. But I could hardly believe it when I found out that I gone thirteen seconds faster than Jari-Matti Latvala! Last year, in the other direction, he beat me by six seconds when I thought I had driven the perfect stage. That just goes to show the progress we have made, through a combination of work with the team and my growing experience. I also have to say that the car worked perfectly all weekend. We only did one day of testing, last Sunday, but that was enough for us to see that we already had the best set-up. I felt really confident right from the word go and that was a key factor in the win. This morning, I was totally relaxed. I just had to drive the last few stages to finish off the work that we had done in the first two days.”
Craig Breen (#8): “It’s the best day of my career again. But it seems that with this car, every day is a bit better! When I grabbed third place yesterday afternoon, I already felt that I had moved up another level. There weren’t many kilometres left to complete today but it was still pretty tough because I was put under pressure by my rivals. I couldn’t be happier, claiming my first WRC stage win and finishing on the podium. The finish was very emotional. I couldn’t believe it, but it was fantastic to celebrate this moment with the people who have supported me. It’s also a richly-deserved result for the guys in the team, who had to work hard to repair the car after I went off during testing on Monday. I’ve taken a step closer to where I want to be this weekend.”
Khalid Al Qassimi (#24): “The pressure was on all our shoulders today! Between the stages, I kept up to date with Kris’ progress and Craig’s fight for third. Finishing with both Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team cars on the podium at Rally Finland is an extraordinary performance. We couldn’t really have hoped for a better result. I’m also very pleased with my performance. I managed to up my pace and improved significantly on my times from last year.”
1. Kris Meeke / Paul Nagle (DS 3 WRC) 2:38:05.8
2. Latvala / Anttila (VW Polo R WRC) +29.1
3. Breen / Martin (DS 3 WRC) +1:41.3
4. Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:45.9
5. Paddon / Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1:48.2
6. Østberg / Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +2:04.6
7. Mikkelsen / Jaeger (VW Polo R WRC) +2:22.4
8. Lappi / Ferm (Skoda Fabia R5) +4:53.8
9. Abbring / Marshall (Hyundai i20 WRC) +5:22.4
10. Suninen / Markkula (Skoda Fabia R5) +5:35.5
… 16. Al Qassimi / Patterson (DS 3 WRC) +12:25.1