M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov showed real composure through the final all-asphalt round of the 2012 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) this weekend. Showcasing flashes of speed and regularly challenging the more experienced drivers, the pairing finished Rallye de France-Alsace in a creditable sixth and seventh place.
Tänak also made history when he won the coveted Power Stage. Indeed the Estonian is the first genuine privateer ever to claim all three bonus points since the scheme was introduced in 2011.
With over-cautious pacenotes restricting a similar performance to his inspired drive on last month’s Rallye Deutschland, Tänak kept his cool as he and co-driver Kuldar Sikk ensured they gained maximum experience from the asphalt tests. Rarely out of the top-ten through the 22 stages, the Estonian regularly matched the more accustomed Tarmac specialists to secure another good result for the M-Sport team.
Despite being disadvantaged without the benefit of a gravel crew, Novikov and co-driver Ilka Minor did well to judge the grip through the first days of competition. Demonstrating some impressive speed, the Russian posted a flurry of encouraging times – including a second fastest time through SS16 and another that was a full two seconds clear of Sébastien Loeb on the newly-crowed nine-time World Champion’s home soil (SS13).
As the rain poured down on the final day at Rallye de France, M-Sport’s young guns had to tackle some tricky conditions. With no midday service break between the six stages, the crews had an added challenge. Yet despite being caught out on occasion, the pairing’s determination and maturity shone through to deliver yet another strong result.
Losing 15 seconds with a spin on SS18, Tänak recovered well to claim sixth place when an ailing Dani Sordo was forced to retire with power-steering problems.
Getting to grips with the treacherous conditions, the Estonian came alive with a resurgent comeback to secure his first Power Stage win. Claiming victory by 0.9 seconds over Belgian driver Thierry Neuville, a return to his impressive form on Tarmac secured Tänak the additional three World Championship points.
Concluding his accomplished drive with another horde of top-five times, the Estonian brought his Ford Fiesta RS WRC home in sixth and climbs to ninth position in the Drivers’ Championship – just one point behind Sordo in eighth and three adrift of fellow Ford driver Martin Prokop in seventh.
Elsewhere, it was an eventful morning for Novikov – running wide into a corn field on SS17, and then damaging the bodywork of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC with a spectacular roll on the following test (SS18). Making some temporary repairs to see him through to the end of the morning loop, the ever-determined Russian maintained his position, almost 50 seconds clear of Chris Atkinson in ninth.
Despite the damage, Novikov held his seventh place over the afternoon loop. Following a string of top-ten times, the Russian had the edge over nearest rival Atkinson to secure his position with a 50.8 second advantage. The Muscovite now lies sixth in the Drivers’ Championship.
Ott Tänak (6th) said:
“The rally has been quite difficult. It was really hard to find a good rhythm straightaway because this was our first time on Tarmac since Germany with no testing in-between. Also the pacenotes weren’t perfect so we didn’t always have a lot of confidence going into some of the corners.
“Today was quite tricky with the stages being really wet and muddy – it was just about making sure we had a clean run through all the stages. That was how we were able to set some good times.
“Of course I am very happy with the Power Stage victory – again I think this was because we had a really clean run through with no mistakes which was good.
“OK, I am quite sure that I was better in Germany than I was here! The stages through the forest are really fast and if the pacenotes are not quite right, it is difficult to get the feeling. But during the event it got better and all in all I think we have to be happy with what we achieved this weekend.”
Evgeny Novikov (7th) said:
“It was very difficult today. The stages were very slippery with a lot of rain and mud on the roads. We rolled on the second stage [SS18] – in a fast right-hander that tightens towards the end. We carried a lot of speed into the corner and I didn’t realise just how slippery it was there. But we were able to get back and finish the rally which is good.
“I think we learnt a lot this weekend and got a lot of experience from all of the stages which is good – and in the end, the result was not so bad.
“This rally really is a great event. There are a lot of spectators, so thanks to Sébastien [Loeb] for bringing them all out to see us! There are not so many Tarmac events in the calendar, but I have to say that this one is definitely one of my favourites.”
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