A DOMINANT Ott Tänak scored his third WRC victory and his first for Toyota Gazoo Racing at YPF Rally Argentina early today (Australian time).
After dictating the opening two legs, Tänak eased through the classic El Condor and Giulio Cesare stages in the rock-strewn Traslasierra mountains to win the fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship by 37.7sec.
The Estonian had looked down and out on Friday morning after hitting a rock, spinning his Yaris World Rally Car and damaging its steering.
But he won 10 of the next 12 tests to build a comfortable lead, leaving his demoralised rivals fighting over the remaining podium places. It was his first win since August last year in Germany and Toyota’s first success since last July in Finland.
“It’s a special one. We never knew what was going to happen with the team change but it’s nice to see how quickly we’re improving,” said Tänak, who joined the Japanese manufacturer ‘s Finnish-based team at the start of the year.
“The car is near enough to my liking and it’s a massive boost for a driver if you have the confidence. I can’t say it was easy, I was pushing really hard and living on the edge on Friday and Saturday.”
Second for Neuville enhanced his title hopes. He narrowed the gap to championship leader Sébastien Ogier to 10 , helped by a maximum five bonus for winning the final Power Stage in his Hyundai i20.
Teammate Dani Sordo finished a further 38 sec behind in third to maintain his recent good form, which has delivered two podiums from the last three events.
Defending world champion Ogier, driving an M-Sport Ford Fiesta, lacked the pace to improve on his record of three wins from the opening four rounds of the season.
The Frenchman held off a determined final day charge from Andreas Mikkelsen to claim fourth.
Norwegian Mikkelsen felt more comfortable with the handling of his i20 and fell 4.0 sec short of overhauling Ogier. Elfyn Evans completed the top six in another Fiesta, despite rarely finding the pace that brought him within 0.7 sec of a maiden WRC victory 12 months ago.
Kris Meeke was seventh in a Citroën C3, the Ulsterman focusing on testing after a puncture on Saturday’s final stage ruined his podium hopes.
A similar problem delayed Esapekka Lappi in the first of two passes through El Condor on Sunday The Finn conceded almost 80 sec in his Yaris to slide from sixth to eighth.
Teemu Suninen and WRC 2 winner Pontus Tidemand completed the leaderboard, Swede Tidemand profiting when teammate Kalle Rovanperä rolled his Skoda Fabia out of a healthy lead on the penultimate stage.
The championship heads back to Europe for round six. The gravel road Vodafone Rally de Portugal is based in Matosinhos on 17-20 May.
FINAL PROVISIONAL STANDINGS:
1 Tänak / Jarveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3:43:28.9
2 Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 37.7
3 Sordo / Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 1:15.7
4 Ogier / Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 1:58.6
5 Mikkelsen / Jaeger (Hyundai i20 WRC) + 2:02.6
6 Evans / Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 3:06.3
7 Meeke / Nagle (Citroën C3 WRC) + 3:25.7
8 Lappi / Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) + 4:32.6
9 Suninen / Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) + 5:38.6
DRIVERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (after Rd 5):
1 Sébastien Ogier 100 points
2 Thierry Neuville 90
3 Ott Tänak 72
4 Andreas Mikkelsen 54
5 Dani Sordo 45
6 Kris Meeke 43
7 Esapekka Lappi 40
8 Jari-Matti Latvala 31
9 Elfyn Evans 26
10 Craig Breen 20
MANUFACTURERS’ WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP (after Rd 5):
1 Hyundai WRT 144
2 M-Sport Ford WRT 129
3 Toyota Gazoo Racing 124
4 Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT 93