Fri 28 Jun 2024

Mikkelsen holds slender lead in Poland

Andreas Mikkelsen found himself leading an FIA World Rally Championship round for the first time since 2019, heading Kalle Rovanperä by just 1.8sec after Friday at ORLEN 80th Rally Poland.

Just 7.7sec blanketed the leading five drivers at the end of a frantic opening day on super-fast gravel roads. Temperatures touched a humid 30°C in northern Poland although two stage cancellations meant that tyre wear was not much of a concern, even for those running soft compound rubber.

Mikkelsen set the early pace and stormed into the lead on the Stańczyki opener as his title-hunting Hyundai colleague, Ott Tänak – who had led following Friday evening’s super special – retired with front-end damage caused by an unavoidable impact.

The Norwegian star built a buffer of 7.4sec in his i20 N but came under attack from Toyota GR Yaris drivers Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans on the repeated afternoon loop when his late starting position offered less of an advantage on tracks already swept clear of loose gravel.

“I am happy with my day,” said Mikkelsen, who last led a WRC rally in Turkey in 2019. “I was too careful on the first stage after regroup so we will try to adjust for tomorrow.”

Toyota’s super-sub Rovanperä produced one of the drives of the day, pipping team-mate Evans in the final stage to head the Welshman by two-tenths of a second. The Finn was drafted in to replace Sébastien Ogier on Tuesday evening and even collected two stage wins despite having less than ideal pre-event preparations.

“It's quite funny; last night I was watching a [reconnaissance] video on the laptop and I fell asleep on the laptop,” he said. “I think we did a good job today [considering] the situation we are in.”

Evans posted top-three times for all but two stages and is currently poised to close the gap to title rivals Tänak and Thierry Neuville, whom he trailed coming into this seventh round of the season. Neuville, who currently leads the championship, faced slippery conditions on road-sweeping duties and ended down in seventh overall.

Mārtiņš Sesks made a stunning start to his Rally1 debut, stopping the clock just 0.3sec adrift of Mikkelsen’s time on SS2 and holding second overall until midday. Driving a non-hybrid Ford Puma, the 24-year-old Latvian fell to fifth in the afternoon, trailing full-time M-Sport Ford driver Adrien Fourmaux by 0.2sec after yielding position to the Frenchman in the finale.

Grégoire Munster, also driving a Puma, ended 21.3sec adrift of the lead in sixth with Neuville a further 8.5sec behind. Eighth went to Takamoto Katsuta, who struggled to find a comfortable rhythm in his Toyota, while WRC2 frontrunners Sami Pajari and Kajetan Kajetanowicz completed the top 10.

Crews face seven more stages covering 124.10km tomorrow, including a third pass over the short super special stage next to the rally’s Mikołajki base.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM