Tanak pockets another WRC victory in Finland with Toyota
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Estonian star Ott Tanak raced clear of the Flying Finns on their home ground at the weekend to extend his lead in the FIA World Rally Championship with five events remaining.
Tanak (Toyota Yaris WRC) remained in the lead battle while at the disadvantage of running as first car on dry roads during Friday’s opening action at WRC Rally Finland.
He made no mistakes during the event and finished with a flourish to earn maximum Power Stage bonus points and edge further ahead of his title rivals.
The Estonian completed the 23-stage event with a winning margin of 25.6secs over Finland’s Esapekka Lappi (Citroen C3 WRC) while Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala (Finland) completed the podium and a strong points haul for Toyota Gazoo Racing in the Manufacturers’ championship.
It was Tanak’s second consecutive victory in Finland and his third win in the last four events of 2019. And it would likely have been four-in-a-row had he not suffered power steering failure in the final stage at Sardinia while leading comfortably.
Tanak’s lead in the series has stretched to 22 points over Citroen’s defending champion Sebastien Ogier (France) who finished fifth in Finland. Belgian Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) was sixth but gained two more Power Stage points than Ogier and they remain separated by three points in a title race that has become even more of a three-way fight.
Considering he was first car on the road in Friday’s 10 stages Tanak delivered a text book demonstration of damage control. He posted two stage wins and completed the day in fourth place trailing the lead quartet of Latvala, Kris Meeke (Toyota) and Lappi — but only 2.6secs from the rally lead.
Tanak’s title rivals were further back with Ogier in seventh place, 15.3secs back from the lead and Neuville had dropped back to eighth and was 30.9secs behind Latvala.
The margin would have been wider but Neuville was fastest on both the Thursday and Friday evening runs through the Harju super special stage.
With such a hot pace and close battle at the top of the leaderboard the pressure was expected to tell on Saturday.
Tanak won Saturday’s opening stage while Meeke set a blistering pace in the second which created a Toyota 1-2-3 with a separation of just 0.6secs.
But the Toyota domination was unsettled on the Kakaristo stage when Meeke and Latvala both clouted the same rock with the left rear of their Yaris WRCs. Meeke smashed the suspension and was forced to retire while Latvala was much luckier — losing about 15secs with a puncture which tore some bodywork off the car.
Tanak immediately took over the lead and completed the day with a 16.4secs margin over Lappi who won two afternoon stages. Latvala’s was in third trailing by 28.8secs ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen (Hyundai), Ogier, Craig Breen (Hyundai) and Neuville.
The overnight order presented some tactical questions for Hyundai management. Ogier’s position between the three Hyundais meant a move to manipulate the order in Neuville’s favour for driver’s title points could have an adverse effect on Hyundai’s manufacturers’ score.
Tanak edged his lead out to 25.6secs over Lappi during Sunday’s four stages while Latvala was 7.6secs further back to complete the podium.In the end Mikkelsen
held onto fourth just 2.7secs ahead of Ogier and there was a opportunity for Breen to clock-in late and take 20secs of penalties that bumped Neuville up to sixth. Neuville also earned four bonus points from second fastest time in the Power Stage.
Standings in the Manufacturers’ Championship closed up in Finland with Toyota’s 1-3 result carving a chunk out of Hyundai’s lead so the margin is now 24 points.The rally revealed a clear performance pecking order between the teams with Toyota the fastest car winning 16 of the 23 special stages. Citroen and Hyundai both showed occasions of stage-winning pace but M-Sport Ford were a distant fourth among the four marques. Teemu Suninen (Finland) finished eighth and team-mate Gus Greensmith (GB) crashed his Fiesta out of ninth on the final morning.
The WRC moves to tarmac for ADAC Rallye Deustchland on the vineyard roads and military training areas near Trier from August 22-25.
2019 World Rally Championship (after 9 of 14 events):
1 Ott Tanak (Estonia) Toyota, 180pts
2 Sebastien Ogier (France) Citroen, 158pts
3 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai, 155pts
4 Elfyn Evans (GB) Ford, 78pts
5 Andreas Mikkelsen (Norway) Hyundai, 71pts
6 Teemu Suninen (Finland) Ford, 66pts
1 Hyundai, 262pts
2 Toyota, 238pts
3 Citroen, 198pts
4 M-Sport Ford, 158pts