STRONG START FOR NOVIKOV AS GREEK TRAGEDY STRIKES TÄNAK
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Evgeny Novikov and Ott Tänak put in a strong performance in the early stages of the 58th Acropolis Rally, only to be blighted by cruel misfortune on the first full day of competition. Nevertheless, with a string of top-ten times, Novikov overcame his problems to hold a credible fifth place. Having to Rally 2 tomorrow, Tänak lays 21st at the end of Day 1.
Novikov showcased his speed in yesterday’s qualifying stage as a blistering time saw the young Russian separate the two works Citroëns – a second up on Mikko Hirvonen and just 0.3 adrift of eight-time world champion Sébastien Loeb. Elsewhere, despite damaging the right-front of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on the final corner, Tänak did well to make it to the stage end to set the eighth fastest time.
The first stage of the event came with a 25km stage en route from the ceremonial start in Athens to the rally base in Loutraki where both Novikov and Tänak set competitive times to lay sixth and seventh respectively.
The rally restarted this morning and although the first full day of competition may not be deemed the most demanding in terms of stage difficulty, it proved a real challenge for the teams in terms of tactics. Faced with two remote services north-west of the rally base in Itea, M-Sport’s young guns had to find the right balance between speed and consistency as only the spare parts carried in the rally car were available to repair the cars throughout the day.
Rising to the challenge, Novikov and co-driver Denis Giraudet continued their strong showing over the morning loop. With two top-five times behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC, the pairing were able to leap-frog Rally de Portugal victor Mads Østberg for fifth place.
Despite incurring a spin and over-shooting a junction, Tänak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk held their own over the morning tests. Building their experience over the stages, the Estonian pairing set consecutive top-ten times to lay seventh overall – 13.9 seconds up on rival Thierry Neuville.
Two stages followed, splitting the two remote services, with the M-Sport duo having a trouble-free run to maintain their fifth and seventh places respectively. But as the crews embarked on the day’s final loop, misfortune struck with Tänak being forced to retire from the day’s competition and Novikov falling foul to technical issues – albeit valiantly battling on to regain fifth place.
Suffering from a broken connector on the MAP sensor connector through SS7, Novikov lost time to fall behind both Østberg and Neuville. Bad luck struck again for the youngster on SS8 with a loose pin in the gear lever forcing the Muscovite to change gear with the linkage only. Undeterred, Novikov and Giraudet put the mechanical skills to good use again – fixing the lever with tape, wire and cable ties to set the fourth fastest time and regain fifth overall on the final stage of the day [SS9].
Elsewhere, a pacenote mix-up for Tänak saw the Estonian lose time through SS7. Despite making it to the end of the stage, the initial impact had damaged the rear wishbone of his Fiesta RS WRC, forcing the 24-year-old to Rally 2 tomorrow.
Evgeny Novikov (5th) said:
“We had a couple of small problems this afternoon. On the first stage [SS7] we had a broken connection [on the MAP sensor connector] which lost us a lot of time. Then on the second stage [SS8] the pin that holds the gear lever in place came out and I had to change gear using the bottom of the lever which was hard work! We managed to fix it and had no problems through the last stage [SS9], so now tomorrow will be about maintaining our position and keeping the pace through the rougher stages.”