SS7: Tänak lays down marker

Ott Tänak drew first blood in his thrilling fight for the Corsica linea - Tour de Corse lead with Elfyn Evans on Saturday morning.

Stage info: SS7

Cap Corse 1, 25.62km
Saturday’s opener crosses Corsica’s narrow northern tip before winding down the west coast and is one of only two tests carried over from 2018 – albeit shortened by 10km at the start. It begins in Luri and drivers go pedal to the metal up the Col de Santa-Lucia, before diving downhill to Pino. The second half follows narrow, twisty roads with magnificent views of les Agriates, and after crossing Barrettali and Canari villages, a final hairpin leads to the finish.

The Toyota Yaris driver clawed back 0.6sec after winning the opening 25.62km Cap Corse speed test. It reduced his deficit to Evans to 3.9sec at the start of the longest day of the FIA World Rally Championship season.

Tänak was 2sec faster than the Welshman at the midpoint of the stage across the northernmost tip of the island, but the Ford Fiesta driver battled back in the second half as the asphalt snaked down the west coast.

“It was really tight yesterday and I believe it will be the same today,” said Tänak, as he contemplated more than 174km of flat out action that lies in wait – more than half the rally’s total distance.

Evans cut a focused figure at the finish. “It was a good run but there were a few hesitations in a few areas. It wasn’t as good as it could have been but not a bad run,” he said.

A rejuvenated Sébastien Loeb was third fastest in his Hyundai i20. He edged team-mate Thierry Neuville, who extended his advantage over fourth-placed Dani Sordo, also at the wheel of an i20, to 22.1sec.

“Towards the end I struggled a bit. I was sliding too much and a bit too careful on the brakes. The car feels good, a bit of movement, but it gives us the grip we need,” said Neuville.

An agitated Teemu Suninen was only ninth fastest in his Fiesta to slip into the clutches of Sébastien Ogier, but he was unwilling to reveal what was troubling him. “A terrible stage for us. We need to try and fix things,” was all the fifth-placed Finn would say.

Ogier closed to within 2.1sec, the Frenchman admitting to a raft of overnight changes on his Citroën C3 in a bid to cure the handling issues that blighted him yesterday. “It’s a bit better but the speed is not there yet,” he said.

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