Ott Tänak became the fifth driver in seven rallies to claim victory in the World Rally Championship this season, the Estonian’s first win at the top level after 73 previous attempts.
Tänak had started the day with 23.3 seconds in hand over the chasing Jari-Matti Latvala, but had a late scare when he overshot a junction on the day’s opening stage. The mistake came as a result of poor visibility, his car filled with dust due to a hole in the cockpit of the Fiesta.
Any worries that another shot at a debut win was slipping through his fingers were abated in the following test however, when Latvala stalled his Toyota Yaris midway through SS17, dropping several seconds and conceding his chance to challenge Tänak for victory had gone.
“There was a big, big rut that I didn’t expect to see,” Latvala explained afterwards. “I tried to find the start button but pushed the stop button first. I lost about 5 seconds.”
This allowed Tänak to pace himself through the final loop of stages, driving deliberately off the pace in the rally-ending powerstage to ensure he brought his car home in one piece to secure his debut win.
“It was a difficult weekend but the first half of this season has been great,” said Tänak. “The new car and a strong team-mate is making me push hard. I hope it’s the first of many wins because it’s all coming together now.”
Having been openly frustrated throughout the previous day through a variety of issues, Thierry Neuville had a much more settled Sunday, bringing his Hyundai safely to the finish in the final podium position.
“We were just unlucky with a brake issue on Saturday that lost us over a minute, which we were not able to get back,” said a reflective Neuville after the powerstage concluded. “To score a podium in this tough rally is still good and extends our run of positive results this season. We have closed the gap to Ogier ever so slightly but we know it will need a big push into this second half of the season to catch him.”
The most impressive performance of all from Sunday’s tests was Toyota rookie Esapekka Lappi, who brought the third Toyota entry to the finish in 4th place. In addition to a career-best result, the Finn picked up an extra five championship points thanks to victory in the powerstage.
The last Toyota was one of the late victims of the rally. Juho Hänninen suffered power steering problems on the final loop, dropping over half a minute in the final two stages and allowing Sébastien Ogier a late promotion to 5th position. He was able to mitigate his losses to Neuville in the championship challenge by finishing one place above the Belgian in the powerstage as another added last-gasp bonus.
Mads Østberg was left to limp through the powerstage with broken suspension on his privateer Fiesta, but had enough time in hand to retain seventh place over compatriot Andreas Mikkelsen, who incurred a 60 second penalty on SS17 for checking in too early. He was still the highest placed Citroën though, finishing eight on his debut with the French marque.
The final points places were taken by Eric Camilli in an R5 specification Ford Fiesta and Skoda Motorsport’s Jan Kopecký, who took WRC2 honours along with his lone overall championship point.
|1||Ott Tänak||Martin Jarveoja||M-Sport World Rally Team||3:25:15.1|
|2||Jari-Matti Latvala||Miikka Anttila||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||+12.3|
|3||Thierry Neuville||Nicolas Gilsoul||Hyundai Motorsport||+1:07.7|
|4||Esapekka Lappi||Janne Ferm||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||+2:12.9|
|5||Sébastien Ogier||Julien Ingrassia||M-Sport World Rally Team||+3:25.3|
|6||Juho Hänninen||Kaj Lindström||Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT||+3:38.5|
|7||Mads Østberg||Ola Fløene||M-Sport World Rally Team||+6:31.8|
|8||Andreas Mikkelsen||Anders Jæger||Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT||+8:07.8|
|9||Eric Camilli||Benjamin Veillas||M-Sport World Rally Team||+11:15.8|
|10||Jan Kopecký||Pavel Dresler||Skoda Motorsport II||+11:21.4|