M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Evgeny Novikov maintained their mature drive over the second full day of competition at Rally de France Alsace today, to lay a creditable seventh and eighth respectively ahead of tomorrow’s final 61 km.
Embarking on the longest day of competition, M-Sport’s youngsters tackled 192 km of competitive stages – varying in altitude and character and including a 43 km test which demands total commitment and concentration from the drivers.
Continuing in the same vein as yesterday, M-Sport’s youngsters adopted a composed approach – finding their pace and taking no big risks to get the maximum experience from the stages – whilst showing flashes of speed to challenge the more experienced drivers. When Ford World Rally Team’s Petter Solberg retired for the day following a mistake on SS9, the pairing were propelled up the leaderboard.
Despite continued issues with overly cautious pacenotes restricting a full-blown attack à la last month’s Rallye Deutschland, Ott Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk maximised their position through the demanding stages. Posting a string of top-ten times – including the sixth fastest time to equal Tarmac specialist Dani Sordo through the opening 18.16 km test (SS9) – the Estonian maintained his pace over the opening loop to eke out almost a half a minute lead to team-mate Novikov.
Becoming more comfortable on the on the Tarmac stages, Tänak improved his pace behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC over the afternoon loop. Trading stage times with fourth-placed Mads Østberg, the Estonian notched up another series of strong times to lay just 37.6 seconds behind sixth going into the final day of competition.
Disadvantaged without the benefit of a gravel crew this weekend, Novikov and co-driver Ilka minor did well to predict the changing grip levels through the morning loop. Building in confidence, the Russian piloted his Ford Fiesta RS WRC to the fifth fastest time through SS11 – three seconds up on Sordo and just over a second adrift of Mikko Hirvonen.
More comfortable behind the wheel and confident with the pacenotes, the Muscovite improved his pace over the second loop – setting the fourth fastest time through SS13, two seconds clear of Sébastien Loeb on the eight-time World Champion’s home soil. More impressive times followed with a second fastest time through the final stage (SS16) – just 0.3 seconds shy of pacesetter Jari-Matti Latvala. Novikov now lies a mere 14.2 seconds adrift of team-mate Tänak ahead of tomorrow’s final tests.
Ott Tänak (7th) said:
“I think this afternoon hasn’t been so bad with no big dramas. The engine stalled on the start line of SS14 – we pushed the launch button and the engine cut out. But it only cost us about three seconds so it wasn’t so bad.
“The stages were quite slippery but all in all the car feels good. We will carry on tomorrow and see how we go. If we have rain it could be a little tricky, but we shall see.”
Evgeny Novikov (8th) said:
“This afternoon was good. The times were good, the pacenotes were good, the stages were good – no dramas.
“We missed a junction towards the end of SS14 and lost a bit of time there, but apart from that everything is OK and we will just try to continue like this tomorrow.”
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