In a dramatic day for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team at Neste Oil Rally Finland, Ott Tänak’s consistency paid dividends as the Estonian claimed sixth place at the end of Day 2. Elsewhere, Evgeny Novikov demonstrated his own style of ‘sisu’ to effect an impressive recovery following a big roll on SS5.
As the rally reconvened for 133.82 competitive kilometres close to the rally base in Jyväskylä, the Estonian pairing of Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk put in a strong performance despite their disadvantageous road position to climb three places in the overall standings.
In spite of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC riding too low and limiting the speed through the opening test [SS4], the 24-year-old was able to set the seventh fastest time – just 4.6 seconds adrift of pacesetter Sébastien Loeb – and close the gap to Qatar World Rally Team’s Chris Atkinson in eighth. Another seventh fastest time through SS5 was enough to see Tänak move ahead of the Australian to secure seventh position overall.
Disadvantaged playing sweeper running earlier on the road than his rivals, Tänak’s consistency continued over the afternoon loop. Never out of the top-ten, the youngster was able to stay in touch with those benefiting from running later in the order and was just 1.7 seconds adrift of Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg through Mokkipera 1 [SS6].
With improved grip on the stages over the evening pass, Tänak’s consistency saw the Estonian able to match the times of the front runners – just 0.2 seconds adrift of Mads Østberg through SS9. Now, with a mature and composed drive granting the youngster sixth place at the end of Day 2, Tänak will be well placed for a strong haul of points when Rally Finland embarks on the final day of competition tomorrow.
The morning loop was a dramatic one for Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet. Setting the 6th fastest time over the opening test – encompassing one of the highest and most spectacular jumps in the field – the young Russian leapfrogged Atkinson to move up to seventh place; less than 10 seconds adrift of the battle for fifth.
Unfortunately, there was heartache for the 21-year-old on Jukojärvi [SS5] when his familiarity of the course saw him take a corner too quickly. Running out of room by a mere half metre, Novikov was unable to get his Ford Fiesta RS WRC straight and rolled off the stage.
Nevertheless, thanks to an heroic effort from the M-Sport mechanics, the car was back on the stages for the afternoon loop and the team avoided what would have been over 40 minutes worth of Rally 2 time penalties.
Backing off over the crests and jumps through the afternoon – so as not to risk co-driver Giraudet’s back which was causing the Frenchman some discomfort following their earlier excursion – Novikov impressed with a string of top-ten times.
Given the circumstances, the Russian continued his impressive performance through the evening stages. Never out of the top-ten on individual stage times, Novikov climbed 10 places; thus demonstrating the speed and determination which makes him one of the most exciting young drivers in the championship.
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“The stages were quite OK. They were very rough in places and we clipped a rock and had a slow puncture on the first one [SS9] and we didn’t have a second spare so we tried to avoid all the rough places as best we could. But we made it through OK, so there were no major problems.
“We are up to sixth now, but positions are not so important right now, it is more about pace. We will just carry on and see how the feeling is.”
Evgeny Novikov (65th) said:
“This evening was OK – same as the earlier loop, nothing special. We are just keeping the same speed and taking it very carefully over the bumps and crests. The car is good and the mechanics did a very good job in service. Tomorrow we will just see how we go – get some more good experience of the stages and try to set some good times.”
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