SS8/9: Tänak grabs lead

Ott Tänak snatched the lead of Corsica linea - Tour de Corse from Elfyn Evans in Saturday morning’s marathon 47km speed test.

Stage info: SS8/9

SS8: Désert des Agriates 1, 14.45km
The Désert des Agriates is a barren, wild and beautiful wilderness and the only ‘official’ desert in Europe. It is crossed by just one road and this comprises the stage, which starts on the edge of the hamlet of Casta. A wide, fast route traverses uninhabited maquis 300m above sea level. After crossing the Vezzo pass, a quick downhill section brings crews to the finish near Petra Moneta. The rally’s fastest and shortest test, clipped by 1km from 2018.

SS9: Castagniccia 1, 47.18km
The longest stage of the weekend. A fast climb of the Riscamone and Serna passes leads to a narrow road that crosses Castello-di-Rostino and Bisinchi. The section in front of Campile church is one of the Tour’s highlights. A climb via Crocicchia leads to the Saint-Antoine pass, after which the test continues along the mountainside to Piano on a new road. There is a change of direction to the San Agostino pass and the final uphill section in muddy woodlands to Loreto di Casinca.

The epic battle between the duo turned Tänak’s way as he won today’s opening two special stages in his Toyota Yaris, cutting the Welshman’s lead to 0.2sec and setting the scene for a showdown in the monster Castagniccia test.

The split times ebbed and flowed in both directions on the narrow, twisty and slippery asphalt, but Tänak stopped the clock 2.5sec quicker than Evans to return to the mid-leg service in Bastia with a 2.3sec advantage.

Tänak acknowledged his pace had varied. “After the first stage we made a couple changes to the set-up which worked really well. I pushed hard in the first two stages, but the long one was far too tricky to push on the limit. The grip was changing all the time,” he said.

Evans pointed to an early issue in Castagniccia. “I maybe didn’t start the best. I touched something on the rear in a dirty cut early on and it altered the handling ever so slightly. No big deal, but it didn’t help,” said the Ford Fiesta driver.

The pace of the frontrunning duo carried them 14.9sec clear of Thierry Neuville in third. The Belgian was second fastest in Désert des Agriates, but admitted he may have been over-cautious in the gravel-covered section midway through the long test.

His hesitation allowed Hyundai i20 team-mate Dani Sordo to close the gap. The Spaniard surprised himself by going fastest to cut his deficit to 16.1sec.

Third fastest in Castagniccia promoted Sébastien Ogier to fifth in his Citroën C3, ahead of Teemu Suninen. The young Finn was plagued by several small issues in his Fiesta and conceded almost 30sec to Ogier in the long stage.

A distraught Esapekka Lappi remained seventh, still searching for the key to unlock more pace. He had almost 90sec in hand over Sébastien Loeb, who lost time in Castagniccia after sliding his i20 into a ditch.

Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala completed the leaderboard, the Briton moving ahead of his Yaris team-mate in Désert des Agriates. They were separated by 8.5sec and relegated WRC 2 leader Eric Camilli, who dropped almost two minutes after stopping to change a tyre.

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