OTT Tänak is set for a hat-trick of wins and the lead in the FIA World Rally Championship after a faultless Saturday at Rally Italia Sardegna.
PHOTO: Dani Sordo’s Hyundai was spectacular on Sardinia’s jumps but ceded the lead on Saturday to a flawless Ott Tänak performance (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
Tänak produced perfection to win every one of the day’s six stages and take the overnight break with a 25.9sec advantage in his Toyota Yaris over previous leader Dani Sordo in a Hyundai i20 Coupe. Teemu Suninen was a further 17.0sec behind in third in a Ford Fiesta.
Having overnighted in third, the Estonian took the overall lead in the last of Saturday morning’s three tests, before extending his 6.4sec advantage to almost half a minute when the stages were repeated in the afternoon.
Neither Sordo nor Suninen had any answer to the Estonian’s pace. Spaniard Sordo finished second in all three morning tests, while Suninen did likewise twice in the second loop.
Abrasive rocky tracks and high temperatures posed a fierce test for cars, drivers and tyres. Tänak’s morning mix of Michelin’s medium and hard compound rubber, followed by the durable hards in the afternoon, paid dividends.
“To win all the stages is great, but my main priority is the rally win, stage wins make no difference,” he said.
“It was a good fight today, Dani was pushing hard and did a really good job. I tried to be careful this afternoon because it was really rough in places.”
Sordo lost vital seconds as his Hyundai shod with hard tyres, suffered wheelspin. Suninen was delighted with his performance, blending pace with caution as he benefited from highly experienced co-driver Jarmo Lehtinen’s knowledge for the first time.
Elfyn Evans and Andreas Mikkelsen fought furiously for fourth. They swapped places in every morning test and the gap never exceeded 2.6sec until the final stage, when Mikkelsen lost time with badly worn tyres in his Hyundai. Evans ended on top by 7.9sec in his M-Sport Fiesta.
Both kept Kris Meeke at arm’s length until the Northern Irishman stopped to change a puncture on his Toyota Yaris in the final test. He dropped to eighth.
His time loss promoted championship contender Thierry Neuville into sixth, almost a minute adrift of teammate Mikkelsen. The Belgian made a poor tyre choice in the morning and struggled to find a rhythm in his i20, despite changing the set-up at the midpoint service.
It was another disappointing morning for championship leader Sébastien Ogier. Returning after Friday’s crash, the Frenchman hit another rock and broke his C3’s rear suspension arm.
They made roadside repairs before limping through the final Monte Lerno stage almost 80 minutes behind his closest title rival, Tänak.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest of the weekend at 41.90km. Two identical loops of two stages culminate in the picture-postcard Wolf Power Stage along the west coast, which offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers.
Outright standings after Saturday:
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h04m10.3s
2 Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +25.9s
3 Teemu Suninen/Jarmo Lehtinen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +42.9s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1m25.4s
5 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger-Amland (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m33.3s
6 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +2m32.4s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +2m58.3s
8 Kris Meeke/Seb Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m53.3s
9 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +7m24.5s
10 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +7m50.6s