Tänak on Top in Italy
The Estonian takes his maiden WRC win as others falter in Sardinia.
Yes, after 73 WRC starts, Ott Tänak has finally secured his place among the elite by taking victory at Rally Italia Sardegna. The win is the first for an Estonian driver since Markko Märtin's win in Spain in 2004. It also makes Tänak the fifth different winner this year, demonstrating just how competitive the 2017 WRC season is proving to be as we reach the halfway point.
It's the third win for the M-Sport World Rally Team and moves Tänak up into third place in the driver's standings. He took victory from Toyota's Jari-Matti Latvala by 12.3 seconds, with the Finnish team continuing to impress during their first season. Championship-leader, Sébastien Ogier, had something of a disappointing weekend. Sweeping the roads on Friday slowed the Frenchman down, meaning he was over 40 seconds behind the leaders by the end of the day and, following these early troubles, he never really got into the groove with the Fiesta, eventually finishing fifth. Elfyn Evans' positive progress was also halted in Italy, with an off on Friday putting the Welshman well out of the running following a return under Rally2.
It was a wild rally for Hyundai, but Thierry Neuville managed to nab the last spot on the podium.
In third spot was Thierry Neuville in the i20 WRC, rounding off a mixed weekend for the Hyundai boys. The Belgian was almost a minute back, having suffered from brake problems on Saturday which had put him out of contention for the win, despite leading for some of Friday. Hayden Paddon had been in the lead of the rally, but a crash on SS13 meant retirement on the following road section. The Kiwi continues to prove his pace but small troubles are preventing him from achieving greatness - yet. Paddon's error gifted Tänak the lead which should have been Neuville's, exasperating the team's misfortune. Dani Sordo struggled with turbo problems and, despite setting numerous fastest times, was not able to break into the top ten.
Toyota runner, Esapekka Lappi, driving the Yaris for only the second time this season, finished in a credible fourth spot, while Juho Hänninen was sixth. A good weekend all-round with Latvala on the podium too. I think everyone was sceptical about how quick the Yaris was going to be in its first season but Tommi Mäkinen's team are certainly doing the business. Mäkinen is clearly happy with their progress too and, following Lappi's good finish (which included six fastest stage times), has rewarded his young driver with confirmation of a drive on each of this year's remaining WRC rounds.
Citroën Racing did not have a good weekend...again.
Not doing the business, however, are Citroën Racing. If you've already read my feature on Andreas Mikkelsen taking Kris Meeke's seat in the C3 WRC for the next round in Poland, you will know that the multiple championship-winning team had another shocking weekend. Meeke was actually leading the rally on Friday, before another big accident saw him sidelined. Craig Breen didn't fair too much better, damaging the gearbox casing of his C3 on SS3 following a heavy landing. He retired on the next road section and was forced to rejoin under Rally2, eventually finishing a disappointing 25th. Mikkelsen was the top Citroën runner in 8th and the Norwegian will be looking to cement a permanent place in the team in Poland. There's no denying that 2017 is proving to be something of a disaster for Citroën Racing.
The next round of the championship is in Poland, starting on June 29th. Sébastien Ogier retains his lead in the overall standings with 141 points; 18 points clear of Thierry Neuvile, while Ott Tänak sits in third place on 108 points. Ogier will be hoping for an improvement in performance in Poland, while Neuville will be looking for a clean rally to keep the pressure on.
Isn't it nice to actually have some genuine competition again?
Pictures courtesy of WRC.com/Red Bull TV and Citroën Racing