Ott Tänak mastered Saturday’s second leg of Arctic Rally Finland to carry a substantial lead into Sunday’s finale.
The Estonian won three of the six superfast snow and ice speed tests in his Hyundai i20 to add to Friday’s opening leg double. He heads Kalle Rovanperä by 24.1sec with two more remaining at this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
His joy was in contrast to the disappointment suffered by World Champion Sébastien Ogier. The championship leader buried his Toyota Yaris into a snowbank 200 metres from the end of the closing test and plunged off the leaderboard as he battled for 20min to dig it out.
Tänak stretched his advantage to 23.6sec after winning two of this morning’s three stages in perfect winter conditions in Lapland’s forests. He held the Finnish youngster and a fast-closing Thierry Neuville at bay this afternoon to put himself in a strong position.
Despite overnight set-up changes to his Yaris, Rovanperä remained frustrated with his car’s balance. He yielded a few seconds after swiping a snowbank and after winning the penultimate stage, he came under fierce pressure from a charging Neuville in the final test.
The Belgian’s tyre strategy worked to perfection and he was quickest by more than 12sec to slash Rovanpera’s advantage to 1.8sec. It was a better afternoon for Neuville who earlier struggled to hear co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe’s pace notes above his i20’s engine noise.
Team-mate Craig Breen found tyre management more tricky as conditions worsened this afternoon. With frozen gravel poking through the ice and loose snow on the surface, the Irishman fell back to fourth, almost 30sec adrift of Neuville.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans broke Tänak’s run of stage wins this morning but the Welshman also struggled to manage his tyres and admitted he was often too cautious. He was 10.1sec behind Breen.
Oliver Solberg surpassed all expectations on his FIA WRC World Rally Car debut. The 19-year-old was a stunning third in the opening stage and returned to the Rovaniemi base in sixth – despite losing his glasses ahead of the final stage!
Takamoto Katsuta finished 7.6sec behind after a daylong scrap with Solberg and Ogier, with Ford Fiesta duo Teemu Suninen and Gus Greensmith next up. FIA WRC2 leader Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard in a Skoda Fabia.
Lorenzo Bertelli retired his Fiesta after plunging into a snowbank in the opening stage, while Pierre-Louis Loubet exited with technical troubles after doing the same later on.
In FIA WRC2, Andreas Mikkelsen, driving a Skoda Fabia Rally2 for Toksport, pushed hard to stay on Lappi’s tail. The Norwegian admitted he was already driving on the limit and didn’t have much more to give. Nikolay Gryazin is 36.0sec behind Mikkelsen in third.
In the FIA WRC3 class, home hero Teemu Asunmaa still leads the way, 12.5sec ahead of Estonia’s Egon Kaur and with a comfortable advantage of 1min and 18sec over another fellow Finn, Eerik Pietarinen.
Sunday’s finale comprises two runs of the 22.47km Aittajärvi test, south of Rovaniemi. The second pass forms the live TV Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points up for grabs for the top five drivers and manufacturers.
|POS||CAR NO||DRIVER||CO-DRIVER||TEAM||ELIGIBILITY||GROUP CLASS||DIFF 1ST|
|1||8||EST O. TÄNAK||EST M. JÄRVEOJA||i20 Coupé WRC||M||RC1||1:43:32.1|
|2||69||FIN K. ROVANPERÄ||FIN J. HALTTUNEN||Yaris WRC||M||RC1||24.1|
|3||11||BEL T. NEUVILLE||BEL M. WYDAEGHE||i20 Coupé WRC||M||RC1||25.9|
|4||42||IRL C. BREEN||IRL P. NAGLE||i20 Coupé WRC||M||RC1||53.4|
|5||33||GBR E. EVANS||GBR S. MARTIN||Yaris WRC||M||RC1||+1:03.5|
|6||2||SWE O. SOLBERG||GBR S. MARSHALL||i20 Coupé WRC||MT||RC1||+1:26.8|
|7||18||JPN T. KATSUTA||GBR D. BARRITT||Yaris WRC||None||RC1||+1:34.4|
|8||3||FIN T. SUNINEN||FIN M. MARKKULA||Fiesta WRC||M||RC1||+1:49.3|
|9||44||GBR G. GREENSMITH||GBR E. EDMONDSON||Fiesta WRC||M||RC1||+3:01.8|
|10||25||FIN E. LAPPI||FIN J. FERM||Polo GTI||WRC2||RC2||+4:48.8|