M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov proved just what it is that makes them two of the most promising up-and-coming young talents in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) today as the pairing continually challenged the works drivers throughout the second day of competition at Wales Rally GB. With a string of top-five stage times between them M-Sport’s young guns hold sixth and seventh places respectively going into the final day of competition at the team’s home event.
The M-Sport privateers also showcased the speed of the Ford Fiesta RS WRC with an impressive feat over the first pass of Crychan (SS7). All of the fastest split times from this morning’s stage were clinched by M-Sport customer drivers – Martin Prokop taking the first split, Tänak the second, Mads Østberg the third and fourth and Novikov securing the fastest time through split five. This was an incredible achievement for the customer crews that goes to prove just how competitive the Fiesta RS WRC is in competition.
Returning to familiar ground, the second day of competitive rallying saw the crews contest 95.36 km through two identical loops of three stages and the day’s concluding Celtic Manor super-special in the grounds of the famous Ryder Cup golf course.
With his power-steering issues rectified during last night’s service, Tänak was back on form through the mix of fast flowing bends and twisting roads that make up the opening stage of the day – Crychan 1 (SS7). Setting the third fastest time – less than a second adrift of the winning stage time – the Estonian was chasing down Mikko Hirvonen in fifth. Further gains followed through SS8 and Tänak lost just 0.9 seconds to his quarry – who had the benefit of fresh tyres – through the morning’s final test (SS9).
Continuing their strong performance through the afternoon loop, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk piloted their Ford Fiesta RS WRC to the second fastest time on SS10 – just 0.5 seconds shy of the stage win and 5.2 seconds up on rally-rival Hirvonen. More top-five times followed with the Estonian making further gains on the Finn. Getting back into the rhythm of gravel rallying and with a gap of just 12 seconds to fifth going into the final day, Tänak will be eager to climb the leaderboard tomorrow.
With his new partnership alongside co-driver Ilka Minor clearly working well for Novikov, the morning loop saw flashes of the same speed that firmly established the Russian as one of the most promising young talents at the start of the season. Taking the fourth fastest time through SS7 – 0.1 seconds quicker than eight-time World Champion and three-time Rally GB winner Sébastien Loeb – Novikov continued his strong showing to set the third quickest time on the fast open stretches and twisty bends that follow the contours of the hillside on SS8.
During the afternoon loop Novikov came alive. Setting the third fastest time on SS10, the ALM supported driver went on to post the second fastest time through SS11. Agonisingly close to his first stage win of the season, he lost out to rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala by just 0.1 seconds. Taking no risks, Novikov continued to impress – claiming a further second fastest stage time through the final test of the day (SS13) and extending his lead over Thierry Neuville in eighth to over a minute and a half.
Meanwhile, a composed and mature drive on his return to the WRC saw Matthew Wilson deliver a string of top-ten times to strengthen his ninth place over the morning loop. Taking 15.2 seconds out of WRC regular Martin Prokop over the first three stages, the Brit established a 35 second lead going into the afternoon loop.
Wilson’s consistency continued over the afternoon loop with the Brit piloting his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to another set of top-ten times alongside regular co-driver Scott Martin. With a comfortable gap to tenth place, the Cumbrian will be hoping to secure a top-ten finish for the county that has aided his long-awaited return.
Elsewhere however, there was heartache for South African star Jan Habig and British co-driver Robbie Durrant. Sliding off the road on the opening test of the day (SS7), the duo found their Ford Fiesta RS WRC lodged in a ditch. Unable to rejoin the stage but with no damage to the car, the pairing will restart under Rally 2 tomorrow.
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“This afternoon has been OK – no problems. I felt more confident and we took two spares so I knew that we had some extra tyres. I was pushing and we wore the tyres completely but still I felt OK.
“I think tomorrow we will just carry on tomorrow as we have today and see what happens. We are only 12 seconds behind Mikko [Hirvonen] now but it is not my ‘special’ aim to beat him – we will just drive our own race and see what happens.”
Evgeny Novikov (7th) said:
“This afternoon has been OK. We’re not doing anything special, just keeping the same speed and enjoying the stages.
“I am not pushing so hard and the times have been good so I am happy with today.”
Matthew Wilson (9th) said:
“This afternoon has been good – all of the gravel stages were really good. But on the last stage we probably made the wrong choice with the tyres and it was a little bit leery. On the first proper left-hander on the asphalt stage [SS13] we nearly ripped the rear corner right off! So after that we took it pretty steady and lost a bit of time. But it was entertaining for the crowd as we were pretty wild in places with no grip in the rear!
“But the three gravel stages were really good – a good step up in our performance so I’m happy.”
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