Sat 23 Apr 2022

Tänak cranks up pressure on Rovanperä

Ott Tänak blew the Croatia Rally wide open on Saturday morning when he slashed Kalle Rovanperä’s lead by more than a minute.

The Estonian trailed the dominant Rovanperä by more than 80sec overnight. After the cancellation of the opening speed test, he ate into the over-cautious Finn’s advantage by 10sec in the next special stage.

But the big turnaround came in the morning’s Platak test, close to Rijeka on the Adriatic coast. In contrast to the dry start to the day, the more westerly location brought pouring rain and thick fog as the roads snaked up to a ski resort.

Tänak and Rovanperä were the only two frontrunners with Pirelli’s wet weather rubber on all four corners. While Tänak claimed fastest time in his Hyundai i20 N, a front left puncture on his rival’s Toyota GR Yaris meant he conceded 54.5sec.

Tänak nibbled back a further 1.4sec in the morning’s closing test to leave him only 16.8sec adrift as crews returned to Zagreb for the mid-leg service. He acknowledged the weather in Platak was a real eye-opener.

“I guess in these conditions you don’t care about the time, you’re just happy to make it through,” he admitted. “It was like a different place in the world. On the small road there was quite a lot of standing water so you have quite a bit of aquaplaning.

“On the big road with visibility where you can only see the bonnet it was fast. But in the fast if you don’t know where to go, driving blind was quite a challenge as well.”

FIA World Rally Championship leader Rovanperä has plenty of time at service to think about how hard he would fight to repel Tänak in the afternoon’s re-run of the stages.

“Ott has been really fast today so I think it will be a tricky afternoon. Let’s see how the feeling is and how fast is the pace. It’s going to be important for us to score some points so we have to be a bit clever,” mused the 21-year-old.

Craig Breen was 41.0sec behind in third, despite overshooting a hairpin in the final test in his Ford Puma.

The Irishman had 26.2sec in hand over Thierry Neuville, whose weekend took another twist when his i20 N was pushed into service early this morning. A 10sec penalty for leaving a minute late added to his 60sec overnight punishment for speeding on Friday.

Neuville was fastest in SS12 and was 37.2sec clear of fifth-placed Elfyn Evans, who won the opening test in a Toyota GR Yaris. Takamoto Katsuta rounded off the top six, but the Japanese pilot was more than two minutes adrift of the Welshman after an overshoot.

Oliver Solberg was missing from the leaderboard. The Swede crashed his i20 N in the opening stage, which was later cancelled as rescue vehicles attended a fire at the rear of the car.

WRC2 leader Yohan Rossel was seventh, with fellow support category contenders Nikolay Gryazin, Eric Camilli and Kajetan Kajetanowicz completing the top 10.

• Full coverage from the Croatia Rally will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

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