Munchi's Ford World Rally Team driver Matti Rantanen produced a scintillating performance at Rally Finland to finish in fifth place, his best-ever result at an FIA World Rally Championship event. It was a strong weekend for the Munchi's team as Federico Villagra again picked up manufacturer
points, finishing 11th overall.
After impressing with a seventh-place finish on his home rally last year, Rantanen had set himself high standards for this year's event and wasted no time in making his mark on the field.
Following a tenth-place finish on the super special stage at the Killeri trotting track on Thursday night, the Finn and co-driver Mikko Lukka put their local knowledge to good use to scythe through the field on the Day One stages north-west of Jyvaskyla.
By the end of the first day Rantanen had moved up to fifth place overall with only the main championship protagonists in front of him. His early stage times on Saturday morning were affected by a misfire at low revs as he dropped behind Henning Solberg, but this problem was fixed at the first service and by the end of the longest day of the rally the young Finn had recovered to finish the day in the same position that he started from.
With Sebastien Ogier pushing him for fifth place there was no let-up on Sunday morning. A big moment on SS21 saw Rantanen caught out by a slow corner in another ultra-fast section of Finnish road, but again he recovered to take a four-second advantage into the final two stages of the day.
With Ogier challenging hard, the Finn managed to cling on, holding a nerve-jangling 0.3-second advantage at the end with a stunning third place on SS23 Ruuhimaki, the final stage of the rally.
Having sat out the high-speed tests of Rally Poland, Villagra had an uphill struggle ahead of him to adapt to the ultra-fast Finnish roads after his last WRC outing on the Acropolis Rally, one of the slowest on the calendar. With limited experience of the crests and corners of the Finnish stages the seven-time Argentine Champion lacked the knowledge to push hard on the first pass of the stages.
A steady start to the rally saw him move up two positions on Day One from the 15th place that he occupied after the opening super special stage. With co-driver Jorge Perez Companc beside him for the first time since Rally d'Italia Sardegna, Villagra was able to make some good changes to his pacenotes over the day and build his confidence on the challenging forest roads to the north-west of Jyvaskyla.
Villagra, who has only completed Rally Finland once before after retiring from last year's event, continued his steady progress on Day Two, staying in the battle to gain manufacturer points for the team, whilst climbing up to 11th overall by the end of a largely trouble-free day.
After moving into the top ten on Sunday morning he was caught by another Finn, Juho Hanninen, on the penultimate stage of the rally, finishing in 11th place.
Meanwhile, Mattias Therman and co-driver Janni Perala made steady progress up the field during their home rally. The Finn, who had prepared hard for the event, was determined to make the most of his drive in the Ford Focus RS WRC and was rewarded by an excellent result which saw him finish in 15th place.
"I'm very happy today, my result last year was great but this one really tops it. I started to think I should be closer to the top drivers but I have to remember that the four people above me are full-time professional rally drivers. The car that M-Sport provided for me has been fantastic and we hardly changed any settings all rally. I found it difficult on the second day and I felt we were a bit too sideways in some of the stages and lost some time on the loose gravel. But the fight with Ogier today was exciting and a really great feeling to come out on top."
"This has been a very difficult rally but we are happy to finish with no problems and get another year's experience of competing here. Experience counts for a lot and when I made my pacenotes for this rally I thought they were fine. But the top drivers really know the lines here, especially over the crests, and I'm having to adjust to it a bit more. It's difficult to find the exact speed for the corners and I'm struggling more on the first pass with this.
"We came here from Rally Acropolis and it's a shame we didn't compete in Poland as it may have helped us to adjust to the high speeds. The car has been working well all weekend and it's also a real pleasure to compete on this rally; the stages are fantastic fun and very exciting."