Thu 20 Jul 2023

Bittersweet start for Tanak in Estonia

Ott Tänak set the pace in Thursday evening’s opening speed test at Rally Estonia - but the local hero goes to bed with very little to smile about.

M-Sport Ford’s leading light pipped Elfyn Evans and Esapekka Lappi by sixth-tenths of a second through the twisty 3.35km Tartu vald test over the parkland roads of Raadi Manor. That was little consolation for Tänak, however, who starts the rally lumbered with a five-minute time penalty.

Technical issues in shakedown gave the British team no choice but to replace the engine in Tänak’s Puma, a punishable offence when carried out between scrutineering and the first time control.

“I would say that the more I have to go through the day, the more it hurts,” Tänak reflected. “Our chances for the championship were quite tight considering our performances this year and we were working hard for these next two rallies. This was a proper kick in the balls.”

There was nothing to separate Evans’ Toyota GR Yaris and Lappi’s Hyundai i20 N. The pair both posted identical times and share a joint lead overnight. Reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä was a single tenth in arrears in his Toyota.

Hyundai man Thierry Neuville holds fourth overall, 1.6sec clear of Takamoto Katsuta. Behind the Japanese was Puma youngster Pierre-Louis Loubet, who dropped 4.4sec after a scrappy run, while WRC2 runners Miko Marczyk, Georg Linnamäe and Andreas Mikkelsen completed the early leaderboard.

The going gets tougher on Friday as the longest leg of the rally brings 133.38km of action over identical morning and afternoon loops north and south of the city. The pace will be hot from the start with the 24.35km Peipsääre, the longest test of the rally, kicking things off at 09.08 local time.

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