WRC Rally Italy Sardinia’s Saturday dramas put Tanak in control

Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

WRC Rally Italy Sardinia’s Saturday dramas put Tanak in control

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WRC Rally Italy Sardinia’s Saturday dramas put Tanak in control

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Ott Tanak is closing in on his and Hyundai’s first win of the FIA World Rally Championship’s all-new hybrid era after leaving his rivals for dust on Saturday’s penultimate leg of Rally Italy Sardinia.

The Estonian’s i20 N Rally1 will start Sunday’s final leg with a handy 46s advantage over M-Sport Ford’s Craig Breen after pulling clear on what proved a short and disastrous day for Friday leader Esapekka Lappi.

The stage was set for a thrilling battle after Lappi’s Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 led Tanak by just 0.7s overnight, but the Finn retired on Saturday’s opening Tempio Pausania stage when a heavy compression sent his car flying into a rock which ripped off the left-rear wheel.

Lappi’s exit left Tanak well clear at the front and, despite insisting he wasn’t pushing, the stage times suggested otherwise as the Hyundai ace won six of the day’s seven stages.

While his WRC title hopes may be slim after a poor start to the season, victory here would mean a lot to 2019 champ Tanak. He hasn’t stood on the top step of the podium since last year’s Arctic Rally Finland, which was a frustrating 461 days ago.

“It’s been a good day,” reflected Tanak. “In the car we had quite a good feeling. The roads were holding up well in the afternoon and it was quite enjoyable.

“On the first stage this morning, when Esapekka was still in the fight, we gave it a good push. After that, I would say we were slowing down step by step, but the times were still coming. I guess, if you’re in the mood, that’s how it should be.

“But we’ve been in this position before and we know how it is. It’s not over until the finish line is crossed, so let’s say it’s better not to think about that just yet.”

Breen was the only other driver to win a stage on what was a hot and dusty day. The Irishman started third in his Puma Rally 1 before snatching the second-place spot when his M-Sport Ford teammate, Pierre-Louis Loubet, punctured a tire on the opening test.

Breen surged into second for M-Sport Ford. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Breen was pressured by Hyundai’s Dani Sordo in the morning, but managed to build a comfortable buffer as the Spaniard struggled for pace later in the day. At close of day, 20.8s separated the pair.

Loubet delivered a mature drive to bring his Puma to the overnight halt in fourth. He trailed Sordo by 25.0s, but had a 51.4s buffer over fifth-placed Kalle Rovanpera, who started the day eighth after running as first car on the road on Friday — a position that left him as an involuntary road sweeper for the cars behind.

Rovanpera took his GR Yaris into the top five late in the day when Adrien Fourmaux crashed his Ford on the final Monte Lerno Di Pattada blast and the stage was subsequently red flagged. Despite coming to Sardinia with a chance to make it four consecutive WRC wins, the points Rovanpera would bank for fifth, plus whatever bonus points he can get from Sunday’s rally-ending Wolf Power Stage, will keep the Finn well ahead in overall championship points.

After a slow start, Rovanpera is rising into position to score a solid boost to his point lead. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta was almost four minutes down on the leaders. With no mid-leg service, the Japanese driver was forced to take a circumspect approach while nursing a weakened radiator, which had taken a hit through the watersplash on the Coiluna-Loelle stage.

Gus Greensmith completed the Rally1 entries still running, his Puma holding seventh, but trailing Katsuta by 1m11.0s.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was eyeing a climb up the leaderboard after ending Friday ninth following transmission woes. However, the Belgian’s luck ran out on the third stage of the morning when a rollover put him out for the day.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, engine issues saw reigning champion Andreas Mikkelsen retiring for a second consecutive rally, opening the door for Toksport teammate Nikolay Gryazin to take over the class lead and finish the day in eighth overall.

Mikkelsen’s Skoda Fabia Evo ground to a halt on the Erula-Tula 2 stage, the morning’s final test. His demise allowed second-placed Gryazin to move into a comfortable 44.9s lead over Spain’s Jan Solans by the end of Saturday’s leg.

Gryazin capitalized on his teammate Mikkelsen’s misfortune to grab the WRC2 lead. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Crews will head north of Alghero along the coast on Sunday to tackle the Monte Baranta (9.02 miles) and Sassari-Argentiera (4.41 miles) tests. Both stages are run twice on the final day, with the latter being the venue for the bonus points-paying Power Stage.

As has become tradition on Rally Italy Sardinia, whoever emerges from the final stage on top will then dive — together with their whole team — into the Alghero harbor. If things stay as they are at the sharp end, let’s hope Ott Tanak has honed his diving skills…

WRC Rally Italy Sardinia, leading positions after Day Two, SS17
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 2h43m35.6s
2 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +46.0s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m06.8s
4 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +1m31.8s
5 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m23.2s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3m52.3s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +5m03.3s
8 Nikolay Gryazin/Kostantin Aleksandrov (Skoda Fabio Evo – WRC2 leader) +6m09.2s
9 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +6m54.1s
10 Chris Ingram/Craig Drew (Skoda Fabio Evo – WRC2) +7m09.4s

Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.

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