Ott Tänak threw down the gauntlet in Lapland’s frozen forests by winning the opening two speed tests to build a dominant lead at Arctic Rally Finland Powered by CapitalBox on Friday night.
The Estonian was the class of the field in the first of three days of Arctic action. He was fastest in the first 31.05 km Sarriojärvi test by 3.6 sec before crushing his rivals by almost 10 sec in the repeat run in darkness.
Tänak returned to the overnight halt in Rovaniemi with a 16.2 sec advantage over Hyundai i20 team-mate Craig Breen, with home hero Kalle Rovanperä 20.4 sec adrift in a Toyota Yaris in third.
Pirelli’s tyres provided amazing grip as the tungsten-tipped studded rubber bit into the snow and ice-covered roads. Tänak was one of the few frontrunners to gamble on just one spare tyre for the pair of stages.
“I tried to be as nice as possible to the tyres on the hard surface,” he said. “It’s still very, very early in the rally so no reason yet to think about anything. It was a challenging and typical roller coaster Finland stage, very technical.”
Breen, returning to the FIA World Rally Championship after a four-rally absence, was quickly back in the groove. Top three times on both stages put the Irishman ahead of the eager 20-year-old Rovanperä.
The Finn’s first stage split times were quicker than Tänak, but a mistake after the midpoint slowed his progress. On roads littered with tricky blind crests, he recorded the top speed, clocking a remarkable 204.8 kph in the second pass.
“I was stuck in a snowbank for a while. I thought I had more time coming into a junction but went wide and hit the rear. We can’t have mistakes like that again,” the 20-year-old said.
Thierry Neuville put a third i20 into the top four. The Belgian was 9.4 sec behind Rovanperä and complained of understeer in the second run, but he had 2.2 sec in hand over Elfyn Evans’ Toyota Yaris in fifth. Teemu Suninen was sixth in a Ford Fiesta.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was almost 50 sec off the lead in ninth in his Yaris. Road conditions improved progressively so first in the order proved a tough task for the Frenchman, especially as snow flurries left loose powder on the surface for the second pass.
The bulk of the rally takes place in today’s second leg. A compact clockwise route south-east of Rovaniemi is driven twice, with service in between. The final stage runs in darkness and the six tests add up to 144.04 km of action.
Leading positions after Friday
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 31 min 50.7 sec
2. C Breen / P Nagle IRL Hyundai i20 +16.2 sec
3. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota Yaris +20.4 sec
4. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 +29.8 sec
5. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +32.0 sec
6. T Suninen / M Markkula FIN Ford Fiesta +34.5 sec
Credits : Photos and content courtesy of Red Bull Media House GmbH