M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak refused to succumb to the tricky conditions on Day 2 of Rally Italia Sardegna today.

Holding two podium positions and notching up two fastest stage times and a one-two finish for the team on SS7, the pairing kept their Ford Fiesta RS WRCs firmly on the straight and narrow.

Ott Tanak and Kuldar Sikk, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team
Ott Tanak and Kuldar Sikk, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Photo by: Ford Motor Company

With each crew gaining a number of positions – Novikov climbing from seventh to second and Tänak from ninth to third – the duo are on course to secure the Cumbrian team’s best ever finish.

As the Sardinian sun shone down on the loose-gravel stages, tyre wear was pivotal and just keeping the rally cars on the road was proving difficult for even the most experienced of crews.

But thanks to some expert preservation, tactics, and composure, the youngsters had the better of a number of more experienced drivers ahead.

Having the measure of the morning’s difficult tests, Novikov and co-driver Ilka Minor came into their own. While a host of other drivers fell foul of the conditions – including newly-crowed nine-time World Champion, Sébastien Loeb – the Russo-Austrian partnership was clearly working well.

Claiming a horde of impressive stage times – including a third and second fastest time through stages four and five respectively – the Muscovite reduced the gap to his second podium finish of the year to just 7.3 seconds.

Despite taking no risks through the following loop, Novikov was the star of the afternoon. Claiming the fastest time on all but one of the three stages, the 22-year-old was propelled into a sensational second place as fellow Ford drivers Mads Østberg and Petter Solberg encountered further troubles.

After losing time on the harder tyre yesterday evening, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk were back on form over the first full day of competitive rallying.

Although suffering from tyre wear on the final stage (SS5), the Estonian kept his composure with a string of competitive times to find himself in a strong fourth position heading into the afternoon loop.

Embarking on the second batch of stages, Tänak’s maturity shone through once again. Setting the fourth fastest time through SS6, the 25-year-old went on to pilot his Fiesta to a one-two finish for the M-Sport team on SS7 – despite some intermittent issues with the engine – and now holds over a minute advantage to fourth-place man Sébastien Ogier.

With a record result for the team in clear sight, M-Sport’s young guns will be looking to maintain their strong position as Rally Italia embarks on its final phase with just under half distance left to run.

Evgeny Novikov (2nd) said: “Of course I am very happy with this result at the moment. This afternoon has been OK, but it was getting more and more slippery out there.

On the second pass we had the hard tyres which weren’t so bad for the first two stages [SS6 and SS7] but on the last one [SS8] they were getting quite used and it was quite tricky.

“I think we have a good rhythm now and I am happy with the pace we are setting. Tomorrow will be all about keeping the concentration and taking no big risks to make sure that we keep this position.”

Ott Tänak (3rd) said: “We had some engine troubles on the second stage this afternoon [SS7] which lost us some power, but we took a look at some of the sensors on the road section and managed to fix it for the last stage [SS8].

“I think it has been a really lucky day for us after we lost a lot of time yesterday! Our position is looking pretty good at the moment, but this is a really tough event. There is another long day to go and, as we have seen, these Sardinian stages are not so easy!

“We need to keep maximum concentration, keep the rhythm and make sure we bring home this good result for Malcolm [Wilson] and the team.”

Source: M-Sport Ford World Rally Team