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Stage win as Tänak conquers conditions

Rally de Portugal kicked off in style


By Olivier Ferret

30 March 2012 - 06:58
Stage win as Tänak conquers conditions

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov chose opposing strategies as the eyes of the World Rally Championship (WRC) looked to the skies for the first traditional gravel event of the season at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. Another stunning drive from Tänak left the Estonian an impressive fourth after Day 1. Despite incurring problems with a misfire, Novikov did well to recover seventh and Dutchman Dennis Kuipers had a strong drive to 10th place overall.

Yesterday’s qualifying session saw M-Sport’s young guns establish themselves as the sport’s future stars. Securing the fifth fastest time, Tänak was just 0.3 seconds adrift of reigning champion Sébastien Loeb and 1.2 up on championship rival Dani Sordo. Happy with his time in sixth, Novikov continued the privateers’ charge, 1.2 seconds adrift of his team-mate. Elsewhere, back behind the wheel of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC for the first time since November last year, Kuipers set the 14th fastest time overall.

The position selection presented one of the most difficult decisions for the M-Sport drivers to date: to risk sweeping the road up front, or to have the possibility of being blighted by dust clouds at the back of the field. Choosing opposing strategies, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk chose to start third on the road, with Novikov opting for 15th position in the running order. Dutchman Kuipers chose to start 10th overall.

Returning to last year’s popular Super Special at the Praça do Império, Rally de Portugal kicked off in style at Lisbon’s city centre. Impressing once again, Tänak claimed ‘best of the rest’ with another fifth fastest time. Setting the 10th fastest time overall, Dutchman Kuipers shone alongside new-for-2012 co-driver Robin Buysmans. Elsewhere, Novikov and experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet found themselves an uncharacteristic 13th overall.

The Rally recommenced with three night-stages through the mountains north of Faro. With no dust affecting the stages, Tänak was disadvantaged running early in the order. Despite this however, the youngster set a blistering time on SS2 to claim the sixth fastest time just 0.5 seconds adrift of Mikko Hirvonen and Norwegian Mads Østberg who was running 12th on the road.

Recovering well and making a good choice running later in the order to avoid sweeping the dry, dust-free stages, Novikov set the seventh fastest time to climb the leaderboard from 13th to an impressive eighth overall over the first 10.19 km test. Having achieved this despite suffering from a misfiring engine, Novikov replicated the potential he showed in the first two events of the season.

Elsewhere, Kuipers set the 12th fastest time but lost out to Jari Ketomaa in the overall standings.

With the roads not clearing as much as expected, Tänak’s choice to run third demonstrated his ever improving intuition and raw speed behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC. With Loeb going off the road 7 km into the 14.29 km test, the Estonian set the fourth fastest time and climbed to fourth in the standings.

Setting the sixth fastest time over SS3, Novikov continued to impress. His misfire woes prevailing, the Russian leap-frogged Østberg for sixth overall; continuing his climb up the leader board.

Kuipers came alive over the 14.29 km of SS3. Setting an impressive time behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the Dutchman was propelled into eighth place in the overall standings.

The last stage of the day saw mixed conditions for the M-Sport crews. With heaving rain affecting the end of the stage, Tänak’s choice of third on the road paid dividends and gifted the youngster another stage win after two Super Special wins at Rally Mexico. Heading into the second day of competition, Tänak lies fourth overall, 10.7 seconds adrift of the podium and just 15.7 seconds from rally leader, Jari-Matti Latvala.

Disadvantaged by running later in the stage, Novikov was blighted by the heavy rain. Having to cope with treacherously slippery conditions, the young Muscovite set the 11th fastest time and will start Day 2 in seventh position overall.

Also having to contend with the tricky conditions, Kuipers set the 13th fastest time over the final stage. Starting tomorrow 10th overall, the Dutchman will be chasing the points on his first WRC event of 2012.

Ott Tänak (4th) said: “I’m quite happy. Of course I’m not so happy with the middle stage [SS3] because we made a bit of a stupid mistake there. We forgot the lights because it was pretty light at the start of the stage and then it was getting too dark and I was thinking something is missing!

“Ok, this stage [SS3] wasn’t the best, but we won the last stage [SS4] which was our first proper stage win so that was nice.

“For us, it was really dry on the first stages so we had to do a bit of cleaning. But then it started to rain which changed the conditions quite a lot. Overall I think our starting position wasn’t too bad. But I also think there wasn’t a perfect starting position for today. In the first stages it was better to be behind, but in the last ones, for sure it was better to be out in front.

“So, all in all, I think we did ok!”

Evgeny Novikov (7th) said: “Today was not so good. We had an issue with a misfire from the first stage. Also the rain on SS4 meant that the conditions were really difficult. It was really slippery, but this was the same for a lot of drivers.

“It could be better. But ok, we will see what we can do tomorrow.”

Dennis Kuipers (10th) said: “Driving in the dark was quite difficult. It’s a different world! But we went well and I’m feeling good in the car, so I’m quite happy.

“In the last stage we had quite a bit of rain which made the road pretty slippery. But it was ok for us and hopefully we can push a little bit harder tomorrow.”


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