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PHOTO: Andreas Mikkelsen (right) and co-driver Anders Jaeger celebrate their Polish victory (Volkswagen pic)

•  Puncture blows Tänak’s dream
•  Mikkelsen scoops second win
•  Sportsmanship on show as rivals console Tänak

NORWEGIAN driver Andreas Mikkelsen snatched a dramatic last-gasp victory at PZM 73rd Rally Poland on Sunday after long-time leader Ott Tänak was cruelly deprived of his maiden FIA World Rally Championship win.

Tänak’s Ford Fiesta RS suffered a puncture in the penultimate rain-soaked stage, wiping out his near-20 second lead and allowing Mikkelsen to claim a second career success.

The Volkswagen driver became the sixth different winner in the past six rounds of a hugely unpredictable season.

“We pushed so hard all weekend and with the weather as it was today we knew it was going to be difficult and we gave it everything,” Mikkelsen said.

“It was like a war in the penultimate stage and it was all about luck, who got out without problems, and we were the lucky ones.”

Mikkelsen commiserated with the Estonian, having experienced the same heartbreak when he spun out of the lead in Sweden in 2015 in the final test.

“I told Ott before the final stage that I felt so sorry for him. It would have been an adventure story, but that’s the way rallying is. It’s very unpredictable,” said Andreas Mikkelsen, who climbed to second in the drivers’ standings behind his teammate and triple World Champion Sebastien Ogier.

Ott Tanak (EST) celebrates second place during FIA World Rally Championship 2016 Poland in Mikolajki, Poland on July 3, 2016

Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR), Anders Jæger (NOR) Volkswagen Polo R WRC (2016) WRC Rally Poland 2016

PHOTOS: Above, World Champion Sebastien Ogier carries a disappointed Ott Tänak after the finish, supported by (from left) Thierry Neuville, Hayden Paddon and Jari-Matti Latvala. Below, Andreas Mikkelsen takes a spectacular jump on the super-fast WRC Rally Poland stages (WRC, Volkswagen pics)

At the brief and-of-stage celebrations, Mikkelsen and an emotional Tänak embraced and Ogier carried Tänak on his shoulders while surrounded by fellow drivers.

Tänak had excelled on the sandy but lightning-fast roads since Friday afternoon and was inconsolable at the finish.

At the brief and-of-stage celebrations, Andreas Mikkelsen and an emotional Tänak embraced and Ogier carried Tänak on his shoulders while surrounded by fellow drivers.“There’s nothing I can say. All this and then you get nothing, it’s too hard,” he said.

Hayden Paddon completed the podium in a Hyundai i20, 2.3 sec behind Tänak, to end a run of accidents in the previous two rounds. However, the New Zealander almost relaxed too much in the final stage, allowing teammate Thierry Neuville to close to within 0.8 sec.

Jari-Matti Latvala finished fifth, a further 4.5sec back in a Volkswagen Polo R. Teammate Ogier was sixth, the championship leader admitting conditions were so bad that simply surviving the final day was his sole aim.

Craig Breen was seventh in a DS 3, moving up after teammate Stéphane Lefebvre smashed his car’s rear-left suspension after spinning into a tree. The Frenchman eventually finished ninth.

Mads Østberg overhauled both Lefebvre and teammate Eric Camilli, who limped through the final stage with damaged suspension on his Fiesta RS after going off the road in the previous test. Camilli took 10th.

Dani Sordo retired after firstly slamming his i20 in chicane bales and then damaging his rear suspension against a tree.

In WRC2, the Australian crew of Scott Pedder and Dale Moscatt retired their Skoda Fabia R5 on the final day after running as high as fifth outright.

Poland marked the midpoint of the 14-round campaign. The second half begins with Neste Rally Finland on 28-31 July and concludes with Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast on 17-20 November

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.