Kris Meeke has become the first British driver, and only the sixth non-Scandinavian, to win Rally Finland, the most famous gravel event in the World Rally Championship.
The Northern Irishman dominated over the three days of the rally – and in truth, today’s four-stage schedule was little more than a victory celebration run as Kris consolidated an advantage of more than 40 seconds that he’d built up over Friday and Saturday. As such, Kris and his co-driver Paul Nagle ceded time to their closest challenger, local star Jari-Matti Latvala, on all of today’s stages – but they still had almost half a minute in hand at the finish – a big amount by modern WRC standards, and a huge cushion on an event that’s generally known as one of its most closely contested rallies.
To compound the Citroen Racing team’s joy, the other lead DS 3 WRC of Irishman Craig Breen also reached the podium, in third place. And Kris’s pace was so strong that his winning average speed – 126.6km/h – was the fastest ever on any event in the history of the World Rally Championship.
Drivers like Hannu Mikkola, Markku Alen, Tommi Makinen and Marcus Gronholm have triumphed on Finland’s famous roads – but only Carlos Sainz, Didier Auriol, Markko Martin, Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier have managed to wrestle the winner’s trophy from the hands of the Scandinavian stars before. Britain’s two World Rally Champions, Colin McRae and Richard Burns, were both left frustrated by the locals’ pace.
Kris said, ‘It’s a little bit crazy to be honest. This is the home of rallying and Ouninpohja is the holy grail of rally stages. To win it the way we did, with the team, Paul, the car, is just tremendous. I can remember times that I’ve played around on the quad bike at home and this just felt like that; I’ve just been enjoying it like a small kid.
‘What a result! Yesterday morning we had to do something special. This morning I had to use my brain; yesterday [on Ouninpohja] I think I left it lying in the hotel somewhere. But it’s been an incredible, exceptional weekend.
‘We’ve always known that the Citroen, the DS 3 is still very strong here. But I was wary coming up to the rally, because in previous years I’ve only been able to hang on to the coat tails of Jari-Matti and Seb [Ogier] here. I didn’t honestly expect it to be any different this year but something just clicked, from the first corner.
‘I also have to pay tribute to Paul. He’s done an incredible job. In fact, he’s beaten me on every stage; he had to get to the end of every stage first, on the notes! So it’s been a top, top job from him.’
Kris’s focus now turns back to the development of Citroen Racing’s all-new C3 WRC in preparation for the 2017 season. We’ll continue to bring you updates as he racks up the testing miles in the weeks and months ahead.
Rally Finland – top six finishers
1 Kris Meeke (DS 3 WRC) 2h38m05.8s
2 Jari-Matti Latvala (VW Polo WRC) +29.1s
3 Craig Breen (DS 3 WRC) +1m41.3s
4 Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1m45.9s
5 Hayden Paddon (Hyundai i20 WRC) +1m48.2s
6 Mads Ostberg (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m04.6s