MIKOLAJKI, Warmia-Masuria, Poland – For the first time in a year, Estonian Ott Tänak lead a round of the World Rally Championship following the conclusion of Friday’s first leg of WRC Rally Poland.
The M-Sport World Rally Team driver won three stages after the midday service break to grab the overall lead from Volkswagen’s Andreas Mikkelson.
“It’s been a great day, especially this afternoon when I found a great rhythm,” Tänak said. “The stages have been so fast, and some were quite rough, but the ‘button’ was in. If you want to win there is no other way.”
Tänak led earlier in the day, and after having finished third behind Belgian Thierry Neuville and Mikkelson on Thursday night’s super special, he placed second on stage two behind Neuville’s Hyundai teammate Hayden Paddon.
Mikkelson finished third, but Neuville dropped to sixth on the stage. Neuville said he blamed changes to the route between the recce (which drivers use to create their directions) and the start, which many drivers complained about.
It was a Volkswagen 1-2 on stage three, with Mikkelson leading home Sébastien Ogier by 3.8 seconds. Tänak was third, 0.1 seconds behind Ogier, and at that point, Mikkelson inherited the lead by 3.6 seconds over the Estonian.
Mikkelson said he took a few risks in order to win the stage.
“We tried to cut wherever possible,” Mikkelson said. “We found a huge rock in the road, I was worried, we tried to hit it with the middle of the car. It seems okay.”
Tänak reeled back in Mikkelson on stage four, winning by 1.3 seconds from the Norwegian. The gap was now 2.3 seconds, and Tänak said he was amazed by the stage win.
“That time was a surprise,” he said. “The car was moving about a lot, so I wasn’t feeling over confident, but it’s good.”
Mikkelson gained the advantage on the final stage before the midday service break, finishing second by 1.8 seconds behind Paddon, but 3.8 seconds ahead of Tänak, who finished sixth. Tänak said the setup decisions he would make for the afternoon would be crucial.
“I’m quite happy with the morning but the second half here was really dry and we struggled with grip,” he said. “We just have to continue to be smart with our tire choices.”
Tänak made the right decision on setup for the afternoon, winning stage six by 1.8 seconds over Neuville with Mikkelson 2.5 seconds behind Tänak in fifth. Mikkelson complained of understeer, and said he was looking to fix it.
Having been pushed to third overall by Paddon on stage five, Tänak got second spot back with another stage win over Neuville, this time by 2.4 seconds. The next move was on Mikkelson, whom Tänak overhauled for the overall lead by 3.2 seconds with a 3.5-second win on stage eight.
Tänak said he was pushing hard on the stages.
“I made a big push,” he said. “I had one nasty place with the ruts but all good. Today is Foot Down Friday.”
Tänak lost 1.2 seconds to Mikkelson on stage nine, coming in fourth to the Volkswagen driver’s second. Paddon won the stage, the New Zealander’s third on the leg. Tänak would round out the leg by tying Ogier for the super special victory. Mikkelson finished eighth, 2.2 seconds behind, giving Tänak a 4.2-second lead in the overall standings.
RESULTS: World Rally Championship; Rally Poland; Leg One — Top 10; July 1, 2016
- Ott Tänak/Raigo Mõlder
- Andreas Mikkelson/Anders Jaeger
- Hayden Paddon/John Kennard
- Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia
- Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul
- Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Antilla
- Stéphane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau
- Craig Breen/Scott Martin
- Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas
- Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene