DRAMA FOR NEUVILLE
Ott Tänak dominated the field on Rally Estonia’s first full day of action to end Saturday at the top of the leaderboard. The fight for the final podium is intense with Breen in second and Ogier converging over third as Neuville retired for the day.
Driving on home roads, Tänak shrugged aside the series’ six-month COVID-19 lay-off to head Estonia’s first World Rally by 11.7 seconds. On a superb day for his Hyundai squad, team-mate Craig Breen held second in an identical i20 World Rally Car.
Estonia became the 33rd country to stage a championship round as the competition reached a landmark 600th event since it began in 1973. Tänak celebrated by taking an iron grip on the blisteringly fast sandy roads on which he developed his career.
19 year-old youngster Kalle Rovanperä grabbed the lead in this morning’s opening speed test. Tänak was only fourth after being hampered by a soft tyre, but charged to the front on the next stage and built a 6.8s mid-leg margin over Breen.
The repeated roads were rougher this afternoon, but Tänak doubled his lead before throttling back, content to have won three of today’s 10 stages.
Breen’s part-time programme brings less chance to impress, but the Irishman laid claim to being driver of the day. He won two stages and was second on three more.
Hyundai was on course for a clean sweep of the top three as Thierry Neuville was on Breen’s heels. But his i20 bounced out of a rut, swiped a bank and smashed the rear right suspension, leaving the Belgian stranded.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier replaced Neuville in third. The Frenchman, driving a Toyota Yaris, won two stages but was hindered by two tyres delaminating and a final test stall.
Ogier trailed Breen by 17.0s and headed team-mate Rovanperä by 6.2s. The young Finn’s early lead vanished with a puncture, which relegated him to eighth but he recovered to snatch fourth from fellow Yaris driver Elfyn Evans in the final stage. Sadly, the crew received a one-minute penalty for removing their radiator blanking plate in the control area before the start of SS10, which made them drop to 6th place.
Evans was third initially but struggled to retain his rhythm and tyre troubles saw him slide back to fifth. The Welshman had 25.1s in hand over team-mate Takamoto Katsuta, the Japanese youngster belying his lack of experience to stay on course for a career-best sixth. With Rovanperä’s misfortune, they respectively climb up to fourth and fifth.
Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen struggled for grip in their Ford Fiestas in seventh and eighth, with World Rally Car debutant Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith completing the leaderboard.
In FIA WRC2, PH Sport’s Mads Østberg recovered from early drama to open a comfortable lead in category thanks to eight impressive stage wins with his Citroën C3 Rally2. He eventually rounded out a long day of action with a 37.8sec advantage over Hyundai’s Nikolay Gryazin with his NG i20 car. M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux, is third in a Ford Fiesta MkII.
In FIA WRC3, Norway’s Olivier Solberg and local hero Egon Kaur traded stage times throughout the afternoon, but Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 pilot Solberg did enough to extend his lead to 17.8s at the close of play. Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz is third, 14.6s ahead of Jari Huttunen, with Marco Bulacia in fifth.
Local driver Robert Virves continues to lead FIA Junior WRC on his category debut, holding a 11.2s advantage over Mārtiņš Sesks.
Ken Torn had been in the thick of the battle but was eliminated from the contest on SS9 when his Ford Fiesta Rally4 picked up a double puncture. With an insufficient number of spares, Torn called it quits and retired for the day. As a result, it’s Sami Pajari who holds third, 37.1s adrift of Virves.
Image: 2020 WRC - Rally Estonia - O. Tänak / M. Järveoja (photo DPPI)