SS16: Safety first for Ott

Ott Tänak eased safely through Sunday morning’s rock-strewn opening El Condor speed test to increase his comfortable advantage at the top of the YPF Rally Argentina leaderboard.

Stage info: SS16

Copina / El Condor 1, 16.43km
One of the most famous roads in the WRC. Located in the Traslasierra mountains, it boasts stunning views in good weather, but fog and rain transform it into hell. It is driven in the opposite direction to 2017, starting on smooth and wide roads before climbing 746 metres to the finish via three famous iron bridges which hang from canyons. The road becomes increasingly rough and the test ends by winding around massive rocks on which crowds perch roadside.

The Estonian was third through the classic 16.43km special stage in his Toyota Yaris and that was sufficient to widen his lead over a cautious Thierry Neuville to 49.0sec.

El Condor was driven uphill for the first time in many seasons and organisers estimated 100,000 fans lined the stage, perched on towering roadside rocks to watch drivers cross the famous hanging bridges and wind their way up the mountain.

The honour of fastest time went to Andreas Mikkelsen in a Hyundai i20, the Norwegian 0.5sec quicker than Sébastien Ogier’s Ford Fiesta with Tänak a further 1.6sec back.

Neuville had his eyes fixed on preserving second place and preparing for the second pass this afternoon when bonus points are available in the Power Stage.

“I didn’t need to push in this one, just to check the notes and have a clean run,” he said. “It’s a great atmosphere but we need to concentrate on the road because it’s very narrow and very tricky.”

The passage of cars unearthed plenty of loose rocks in the road and Esapekka Lappi was the main victim. The Finn punctured in his Toyota Yaris shortly after the start and dropped about 80sec as he limped through the stage.

“A rear right puncture on the third corner. I was staying in the middle of the road and didn’t hit anything,” said a dejected Lappi, who dropped behind Elfyn Evans and Kris Meeke to eighth.

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