Ott Tänak closed to within a whisker of the lead at PZM 73rd Rally Poland after opening Saturday afternoon’s action with two special stage wins.
Stage info: SS6/7
SS6: Chmielewo 2, 6.52km
Friday morning’s opening test is a mixture of wide and narrow roads but it is fast throughout with several jumps. There is loose gravel on the surface but there are also sections that will be muddy if it rains. The first 4.18km are new but the final 2.34km were used in 2014.
SS7: Wieliczki 2, 17.30km
Sandy and thickly-coated with gravel in places, Wieliczki is fast and flowing from the start. Initially wide, the roads narrow after 4km and the corners become tighter before a short forested section and a finale back on the quick roads. The stage twice crosses a railway and tall grass lines the tracks, reducing driver vision.
He topped the timesheets in deteriorating road conditions through the repeat of the short Chmielewo and the following Wieliczki tests to relegate Hayden Paddon from second and move to within 0.3sec of leader Andreas Mikkelsen.
“I was on the door handles in the first one, I gave it absolutely everything,” said Ford Fiesta RS driver Tänak. “The next one was another tricky stage, and I was a little worried because it was fast and at such high speeds it’s easy to go out of the road.”
Mikkelsen was frustrated with the handling of his Volkswagen Polo R and was only fifth in both tests.
“I had a problem with understeer, I’m really struggling to make the car turn in. The conditions are very difficult now and I’m not happy with the set-up so we’ll make some changes. There are limitations to what we can do out here but we’ll find something,” he said.
The soft, sandy roads were heavily rutted having already been driven this morning and Paddon was another to struggle as he slipped 3.9sec behind Tänak. The Kiwi was second in SS6 and seventh in the next test in his Hyundai i20.
“The ruts are very deep and the car was jumping out of them. Maybe I went too low on the ride height, it was all a bit untidy,” he explained.
Sébastien Ogier remained in contention in fourth in his Polo R, the Frenchman’s prayers for rain in vain as the expected thunderstorms failed to materialise and clear skies sent the thermometer up to 27˚C.
Stéphane Lefebvre climbed to sixth in SS6 but promptly fell back to eighth as Jari-Matti Latvala regained the position. An inspired Craig Breen was third fastest to also demote the Frenchman and just 3.1sec cover the trio.