Tänak tames Guanajuatito for fifth
We got what we wanted to achieve here
After a mammoth distance of 407.87 competitive kilometres, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak rounded off what has been a sensational first assault on Rally Guanajuato Mexico in the Ford Fiesta RS WRC with fifth place overall. Elsewhere however, there was disappointment for Evgeny Novikov as an off put the Russian out of the rally; failing to score a World Rally Championship (WRC) point for the first time this year.
Displaying maturity and composure beyond his 24 years, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk impressed throughout the weekend. Despite incurring a 10 second penalty, spin, stalled engine and a puncture costing the Estonian over a minute, Tänak held his own against the top drivers, continually setting the fifth fastest time and excelling over the Super Specials with one third and two fourth place finishes.
Struggling with the set-up of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC and having to perfect brand new pace notes for the event, Novikov and experienced co-driver Denis Giraudet did well to keep in touch with the front runners over the course of the weekend. Unfortunately for the Russian, an off on the final stage of Day 2 (SS20, Comanjilla 2) saw him damage the right-rear wheel of his Fiesta. Incurring a five minute penalty, Novikov was forced to Rally 2 on the final day of competition.
Embarking on the concluding stages, M-Sport’s young guns tackled another Super Special around Leon’s Autodromo (SS21) before one of the longest and most challenging stages on the WRC calendar – the daunting 54.30 km of Guanajuatito (SS22). Competitors then contested two final runs through Mexico’s mountainous landscape: the fast, flowing roads of Derramadero (SS23) before competing for Power Stage points over the final test.
Requiring total concentration and commitment, the 54.30 km test separates the men from the boys. Setting the fifth fastest time behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC – just 14.1 seconds adrift of last year’s Dakar winner, Nassar Al Attiyah – Tänak proved he has what it takes to compete against the world’s best drivers on some the most challenging stages the world series has to offer.
Following the retirement of factory Ford driver, Jari-Matti Latvala, on the notoriously challenging stage, Tänak saw himself propelled into fifth place. Moreover, a puncture for Mads Østberg meant that the Estonian found himself in contention for fourth heading into the final two tests – just 10.1 seconds adrift of last month’s podium finisher.
Setting the fourth fastest time on SS23 (Derramadero) – 0.3 seconds up on Mikko Hirvonen – Tänak continued to impress, consolidating his fifth place with only the final Power Stage left to run. Finishing Rally Mexico in style, Tänak set the fourth fastest time over the final test – a painstaking 67 thousandths of a second adrift off Østberg and his first Power Stage point.
Tänak now lies eighth in the Championship standings with 14 points, two adrift of Dani Sordo in seventh.
Returning under Rally 2 for the final day of competition Novikov and Giraudet planned to use the remaining stages to perfect their pace notes ahead of next year’s event. Regrettably, the pairing fell prey to Guanajuatito (SS22), crashing heavily and rolling his Ford Fiesta RS WRC onto its roof 35 km into the stage.
Despite failing to score on this event, Novikov’s impressive start to the season sees him hold sixth in the Championship standings with 21 points – just five adrift of factory Ford driver, Latvala.
Tänak’s strong result saw the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team extend their lead of the Mini WRC Team in the Manufacturers’ Championship.
Ott Tänak (5th) said: “The rally has been ok. We got what we wanted to achieve here – made it through and got the experience. Our mission was to get at least sixth position and we managed fifth so that was really good for us. I am sorry for Jari-Matti [Latvala] as he was doing really well, but that is just the way it is sometimes.
“On the Power Stage we were just 67 thousandths [of a second] away from Mads [Østberg] and our first Power Stage point so that was a little disappointing, but at least we know who will be buying the drinks tonight!”
Evgeny Novikov (DNF) said: “This afternoon was really tough. We rolled the car onto the roof on the second stage [of the day, SS23] but it is not easy to say exactly what happened – it all happened so quickly. I have looked at some of the in car footage but still it is difficult to see. It is very disappointing for me as I was on track for some more strong points, but these things happen.
“The first stage [SS21] was good and we were working on perfecting the pace notes for next year. I am very disappointed but we are still sixth in the [Drivers’] Championship. Now I have to look ahead to Portugal where hopefully we can be back on the pace and where we need to be.”
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