PHOTO: Ott Tänak flies through Friday’s high-speed stages on Rally Poland (WRC Media pic)
YOUNG Estonian Ott Tänak led PZM 73rd Rally Poland on Friday night after outgunning Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon in an exciting fight over super-fast sandy roads on Round 6 of the FIA World Rally Championship.
It is exactly 12 months since the Estonian led a WRC round and the first time a driver using DMACK tyres has topped the standings in a championship round.
Tänak, 28, driving a privateer Ford Fiesta RS, headed Mikkelsen’s factory Volkswagen Polo R by 4.2 sec after 10 super-fast stages covering 121.92 km. Paddon was a further 6.0 sec behind in a Hyundai i20.
Tänak relegated Thierry Neuville, who led after Thursday night’s curtain-raising test, in Friday’s opening special stage. Mikkelsen then moved ahead for five stages before three consecutive wins enabled Tänak to regain the initiative. He ended the day with five victories.
“It’s been a great day, especially this afternoon when I found a great rhythm,” Tänak said.
“The stages have been so fast and some were quite rough, but the ‘button’ was in. If you want to win there is no other way.”
Mikkelsen was never able to push his advantage above 3.6 sec. When the soft roads became heavily rutted in the afternoon as they were driven for a second time, he was unhappy with his car’s handling and admitted he could do no more to fend off Tänak.
Paddon won three stages although the Kiwi was never comfortable with his car. He changed the set-up for the afternoon to try to improve the balance, but the ride-height was too low for the deep ruts.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was fourth, 16.3 sec off the lead in his Polo R. The Frenchman hoped forecast thunderstorms would arrive to offset the disadvantage of opening the roads in loose conditions, but the day stayed dry with temperatures rising to 27˚C.
Thierry Neuville was fifth, despite dropping two wheels into a field, with a dispirited Jari-Matti Latvala completing the top six. The Finn never found a rhythm, ending 2.8sec ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre with DS 3 teammate Craig Breen a further 1.7sec behind after the trio traded places all day.
Eric Camilli and Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard in Fiesta RS cars. Østberg was disappointed with his pace after a strong showing earlier this month in Italy and lost a handful of seconds going off the road.
Saturday is the longest of the rally with 124.58km of competition. Drivers face two loops of stages near the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, before a third and final run through the Mikolajki super special stage.
In WRC2, Australian Scott Pedder finished equal-10th outright, 2:26.8 behind leader Timo Suninen. Battling a poorly-handling Skoda Fabia R5 all day, Pedder overcame three spins, two over-shoots and a holed radiator to reach the finish.
“The feeling in the car has been progressively worse all day, especially under braking and turning. We think it’s diff related, however we won’t know until we get into the first stage tomorrow morning to know if it is any better or not,” the Australian champion reported.
“The top five pace today was unbelievable. Those guys are on a completely different planet and rumour has it they are basically trying to out drive each other to secure a factory Toyota drive for next year.”
Overall Classification after Day One
1. O. Tanak / R. Molder (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) 1:01:23.0
2. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +4.2
3. H. Paddon / J. Kennard (Hyundai i20 WRC) +10.2
4. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +16.3
5. T. Neuville / N. Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +20.4
6. J-M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +36.6
7. S. Lefebvre / G. Moreau (Citroën DS3 WRC) +39.4
8. C. Breen / S. Martin (Citroën DS3 WRC) +41.1
9. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +58.6
10. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +1:06.7