Proving themselves to be two of the brightest young talents in the World Rally Championship (WRC), Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak reinforced M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s status as the leading privateers over the first day of competition at the 2012 Brother Rally New Zealand. Posting consistent top six times, both youngsters displayed speed and intelligence; making the right tyre choices and completing a faultless drive to lay third and fifth respectively at the end of Day 1.
Covering 209.60 competitive kilometres – over half the event’s total distance – the cambered stages south-west of the rally base in Auckland demanded constant concentration. Split by a remote service in Raglan, the M-Sport duo had to contend with the added challenge of having limited spares available for the short 15 minute service. Nevertheless, rising to the challenge, the pairing showed a sense of maturity which, teamed with their obvious pace, paid dividends on the Tasman Sea coastline.
Choosing to shod their Ford Fiesta RS WRC with Michelin’s option soft tyre over the morning loop, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet proved that they had the intuition as well as the pace. With the muddy stages failing to dry, the young Russian’s decision proved pivotal. Getting into his rhythm, Novikov posted the fourth fastest time over the first run of Te Akau South (SS3) to leap-frog team mate, Tänak, for fourth.
Another faultless drive followed over the afternoon loop and, following a mistake from Ford World Rally Team’s Jari Matti Latvala, Novikov found himself in another podium position. Keeping up his consistency with two fifth and two sixth fastest times, the 21-year-old kept a resurgent Solberg at bay to maintain his third place come the end of Day 1.
With consistency key for Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk on their first venture to the New Zealand stages, the pairing kept their composure where the more experienced faltered. Making the correct tyre choices and keeping their Ford Fiesta RS WRC out of trouble, the Estonian duo posted consistent top six times over the morning loop – including a fourth fastest time over the first run of Te Akau North (SS4) – to secure fifth place and keep rival Thierry Neuville adrift with a 20 second advantage over the Belgian.
Embarking on the second pass, Tänak’s mature drive continued. Despite the drier stages resulting in a drop-off in performance from the soft tyre, the 24-year-old maintained his composure; mastering the difficult stages to secure fifth place. Although losing out to a charging Solberg in the works Fiesta RS WRC, Tänak benefited from Latvala’s mistake on SS7 and extended his lead over Neuville to more than half a minute.
Eager to keep the momentum and impress further, M-Sport’s young guns will head to the northland region tomorrow for 143.01 kilometers of competitive stages – split by a second remote service – in the Whangarei and Kaipara regions.
Evgeny Novikov (3rd) said:
“Things are going good. The morning stages were more slippery than I expected but everything is ok and I am happy with our pace.
“The tyres were not so good at the end of the day but I am happy with my position overall. It has been a good day and I made the right tyre choices. We will try to keep the same speed tomorrow, but we know Petter [Solberg] will be fast.”
Ott Tänak (5th) said:
“We had a big moment on SS4 going into a fast, sixth-gear right-hander which was quite muddy. We had a big slide, but apart from that it was a good morning. Some parts of the stages were more slippery than I had expected, but I really enjoyed the morning loop.
“We went for a big push on the last stage in the afternoon [SS8] but unfortunately the tyres wore a little more over the second pass – by the middle of SS7 they were getting quite worn.
“I am happy with my day. We have a good position so I will try to continue the same tomorrow.”