Ott Tänak secured his second career WRC win with a cool-handed drive through the final day of Rally Deutschland, having held Citroën supersub Andreas Mikkelsen at bay for most of the event.
Tänak was engaged in an early battle for the lead on Friday with Mikkelsen, initially losing the lead through that morning’s loop of stages, before resuming in first place by the afternoon and edging away with a near half-minute gap by Saturday.
With a comfortable gap, Tänak conceded a handful of seconds to Mikkelsen during Sunday’s stages, allowing the gap to fall to 16.4 seconds by the finish line in St Wendeler Land.
Mikkelsen starred on his return to the championship with Citroën, securing the team’s second podium of the season with an excellent drive to second place. He pointed to Panzerplatte as the highlight of his weekend, commenting on how he had finally mastered the stage after years of trying.
Sébastien Ogier took a calm and conservative approach to the final day, backing off and allowing Mikkelsen to increase his advantage in the last four stages. He was happy to settle for third given his chief title rival Thierry Neuville failed to score any points following his retirement on Saturday morning from a broken suspension upright, and failed to set a top five time in the rally-concluding powerstage, missing out on crucial bonus points.
Juho Hänninen stormed into fourth, winning the opening stage of the day and displacing the struggling Elfyn Evans. Evans had been in a rally-long battle with Neuville and then Hänninen for the position, but overshot a junction and stalled his Fiesta in the first run of Losheim am See.
He lost further time in the follow test, bemoaning his tyre selection and falling into the clutches of Craig Breen, having dropped 11.3 seconds to the Irishman over the course of the first Sunday loop. Breen reduced the gap further by winning the penultimate stage, and stole fifth away from a struggling Evans in the powerstage.
Jari-Matti Latvala was forced to contend with an engine misfire on Friday and a broken handbrake on Saturday on his way to seventh place. He finished half a minute ahead of Hayden Paddon in eighth, who had dropped nearly three minutes from punctures on both Friday and Saturday. The Hyundai driver felt his Friday had been confidence shattering, but recovered with more competitive times on the final two days of the rally.
The final points went to local privateer Armin Kremer, piloting a 2017 specification Fiesta WRC, and WRC2 class winner Eric Camilli in tenth, securing an extraordinary result for M-Sport. The Cambrian-based team secured five of the top ten positions between their manufacturer WRC and R5 entries, plus Kremer’s customer effort.
Dani Sordo secured maximum points from the rally-ending powerstage, returning from retirement on Friday after falling 80 metres down a bank. Esapekka Lappi went second quickest in the final stage, despite a near-miss from running wide in a flat-out right hander. It was yet more drama for the Finn, who had overshot a corner, ended up in a field and stalled his Toyota in the prior test.
Ogier strengthened his championship position with two bonus points in the final test, giving the reigning champion a 17 point lead in his quest for a fifth consecutive title.
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