WRC: Tänak triumphs in Estonia and is back into title contention
Breen 2nd, Ogier 3rd
Ott Tänak claimed his first World Rally Championship victory on the series’ return in Estonia. The Hyundai driver survived a late fright to deliver a popular home win on Sunday afternoon and climbed from fifth to third in the overall classification.
Tänak led most of the way to win the three-day gravel road Rally Estonia by 22.2 seconds in a Hyundai i20. Team-mate Craig Breen completed a 1-2 for Hyundai and matched his career-best result.
Estonia was the 600th WRC round since the championship began in 1973 and marked the championship’s return after a six-month pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Tänak was the pre-event favourite and after taking the lead early in Saturday’s opening leg, the Estonian was never headed. But his bid for a maiden victory with the Korean manufacturer almost came unstuck in the penultimate speed test.
He swiped a bank with the rear of his i20, but the damage proved cosmetic only and he eased through the final special stage to secure his first victory for the team.
Tänak is now 13 points behind championship leader Sébastien Ogier. Second for an emotional Breen enabled the squad to close the gap to manufacturers’ series leaders Toyota Gazoo Racing to five points.
Breen finished only 4.7s clear of Ogier, admitting his attempt to measure his pace in the final stage allowed the Frenchman to come closer than intended. It was, however, a hugely impressive performance from the Irishman who is not a regular WRC starter.
Ogier headed a trio of Yaris finishers, satisfied that a podium keeps his hopes of a seventh world title on track, but disappointed he did not have the grip to match Tänak’s pace on Saturday afternoon.
Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä were fourth and fifth, both losing time with tyre troubles. Rovanperä incurred a 60s penalty last night for working on his car in a prohibited zone, but the 19-year-old earlier became the youngest driver to lead a WRC rally at just 19.
Takamoto Katsuta rolled out of what would have been a career-best fifth place. His error promoted the Ford Fiestas of Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi to sixth and seventh, the Finns swapping places after Lappi lost time with a big spin.
Gus Greensmith was eighth after World Rally Car debutant Pierre-Louis Loubet retired with broken steering after hitting a tree stump. FIA WRC3 support category winner Oliver Solberg was ninth with FIA WRC2 victor Mads Østberg completing the leaderboard.
Østberg recovered from a puncture on his PH Sport prepared Citroën C3 on Saturday morning before blasting away from rivals and claiming a resounding victory in the FIA WRC2 category. Behind him, Adrien Fourmaux finished second - a better result than he had anticipated - when a painful last-minute puncture for Hyundai’s Nikolay Gryazin gifted him the position. Pontus Tidemand drove a consistent rally in his Škoda Fabia Rally2 and was rewarded third as Gryazin hit trouble, 1min 21.7sec behind.
Winner of the FIA European Rally Championship’s Rally Liepaja last month in Latvia, Oliver Solberg was unstoppable in neighbouring Estonia, clinching his first ever FIA WRC3 win and first WRC points finish with ninth place overall. His closest rivals this weekend, local hero Egon Kaur and triple FIA ERC champion Kajetan Kajetanowicz, both encountered problems on Sunday. Kaur slipped from second to fourth behind Rally Sweden WRC3 category winner Jari Huttunen, but those positions became third and second when Kajetanowicz rolled his Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo on the final stage.
In FIA Junior WRC, Latvia’s Martins Sesks scored his first victory following late misfortune for long-time leader Robert Virves. The Estonian had seen his overnight lead cut to just 5.3s by Sesks, but worse was to follow when a puncture four stages from the finish cost 45sec and demoted him to third. Sesks however never put a foot wrong throughout the three-day event. Sami Pajari from Finland finished second, 14.7s behind him.
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