M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov secured fourth place overall at the 2012 Brother Rally New Zealand today. Never out of the top-ten, the youngster continually challenged the works drivers in terms of stage times and proved himself to be one of the most exciting young talents in the World Rally Championship. Elsewhere however, there was heartache for team mate Ott Tänak who was forced to retire from the event on the penultimate stages.
Taking in 61.33 kilometres of competitive stages not used since the 1990s, the final day of competition saw a mature drive from Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet as the pairing consolidated their fourth place and ‘best of the rest’ status. Despite his composure behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC, Novikov set an impressive pace over the morning loop. Making the most of Michelin’s soft option tyres in the muddy conditions, the 21-year-old posted the second fastest time over both Brother Puhoi 1 (SS18) and the short asphalt test on SSS Auckland Domain 1 (SS19).
A faultless run followed over the afternoon loop and a string of top-ten stage times saw Novikov secure fourth place overall with almost half a minute in hand to his nearest rival, 24-year-old Belgian Thierry Neuville. Scoring vital points for both the drivers’ and manufacturers’ championships, Novikov now lies fifth in the overall standings – one point ahead of Ford World Rally Team’s Jari-Matti Latvala – with M-Sport Ford World Rally team third.
Elsewhere however, there was heartache for Tänak and fellow countryman Kuldar Sikk on SS20. The Estonian had been running strongly in fifth place, and with a string of competitive times over the morning loop – including a second fastest time just 0.6 seconds adrift of stage victory on SS16 – was keeping rival Neuville at bay.
However disaster struck on the afternoon loop when the 24-year-old was caught out behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on a fast section six kilometres into SS20. Going off the road, both crew members were unharmed but the incident put an untimely end to the duo’s event having been on course for a strong fifth place.
Evgeny Novikov (4th) said:
“The roads were very fast today and the conditions have been very difficult, but our tyre choice has worked very well again so I am pleased with that. Even the smallest mistake can cause the car to roll in these sorts of conditions so we decided not to push today. Fourth place is a very good result for us and I have really enjoyed the stages all weekend.”
Ott Tänak (DNF) said:
“Everything went well this morning. Thierry [Neuville] was going really well, but we set some good times and were able to keep him behind us. Unfortunately, I was caught out on a really fast section this afternoon [six kilometres into SS20] and we went off the road.
“I was trying to push as we lost a lot of time to Thierry on that stage over the morning loop. He was on softs for the afternoon, and we were on hards, so I knew I had to try hard. Unfortunately, the New Zealand camber caught us out.
“Obviously I am very disappointed. Now I just need to concentrate on Finland where hopefully we can finish with a strong result.”