Ott Tänak completed the longest leg of the four-day event 21.3sec clear of Andreas Mikkelsen’s Volkswagen Polo R, with Hayden Paddon completing the provisional podium a further 6.5sec behind in a Hyundai i20.
Tänak was imperious in his Ford Fiesta RS this morning. He won all three speed tests to increase his lead from 4.2sec to 18.0sec, making the most of better grip than his rivals further up the start order who swept the sandy roads.
Road conditions were more equal when the stages were repeated. Mikkelsen initially regained a few seconds before Tänak stemmed the loss, leaving the Estonian looking forward to Sunday when heavy rain is forecast to replace today’s 30˚C temperatures.
“I’m relaxed and hope I have enough in hand for tomorrow. I’ve led for the last two days so why not tomorrow? I was flat out in every corner this morning and did everything I could to extend the lead. I knew the afternoon would be tough in the extreme heat, it’s not easy for the tyres,” he said.
Mikkelsen overshot a junction in the final long stage as he gave his all to peg back Tänak.
“I was at the maximum everywhere. I couldn’t go faster, not one bit. We have to take big risks to fight at the top if we want to – and we want to,” said the Norwegian.
Paddon was happier with his car’s set-up after overnight changes. His driving was ragged at times as he struggled to tame the i20 in the loose morning stages, but the New Zealander remained hot on Mikkelsen’s heels.
Thierry Neuville climbed to fourth in the opening stage. The Belgian survived a bizarre incident when his i20’s gear stick broke and fell into the footwell and he also complained his pace notes were too slow for the roads, which were more technical than yesterday but still lightning fast.
Jari-Matti Latvala overshot a junction en route to fifth in a Polo R. The Finn finally found his rhythm and overhauled despondent team-mate Sébastien Ogier, who was on a hiding to nothing in the sandy conditions from his position as road opener.
Stéphane Lefebvre scored his maiden WRC stage win this afternoon as he retained seventh ahead of Abu Dhabi DS 3 team-mate Craig Breen. Eric Camilli and Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest with just 59.60km of competition. Drivers tackle two identical lops of stages, split by service in Mikolajki. The final Sady test forms the live TV Power Stage with bonus points for the fastest three crews.
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull media Content