Victory For Tänak Throws S-WRC Title Wide Open
Apart from the puncture on Friday and the scare we had after a spin yesterday we had a good run this weekend.
Ford Fiesta S2000 driver Ott Tänak has strengthened his chances of winning the S-WRC title at the championship’s finale later this month with his stunning victory at this weekend’s Rallye de France.
The 23-year-old led the penultimate round of the S-WRC at the end of the first day and finished two minutes and 33.7 seconds ahead of his closest competitor. Fellow Fiesta S2000 driver Martin Prokop secured a second podium spot for Ford after he finished third, only seven seconds behind Eyvind Brynildsen.
Tänak’s third victory in the S-WRC has slashed Juho Hanninen’s lead over the Estonian from 18 points to three and has set the scene for a thrilling championship title fight at the final event of the season – Rally Catalunya.
Ford Fiesta S2000 drivers Bernardo Sousa and wildcard entry Julien Maurin finished fourth and sixth respectively. Sousa’s fourth-place finish this weekend has promoted the 24-year-old to fourth overall in the standings.
After suffering from a heavy crash in Hungary last month, Frigyes Turan was unable to continue after the opening day of Rallye de France due to medical reasons. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah was unable to finish the seventh round of the S-WRC after retiring on Saturday due to a mechanical problem.
S-WRC position: 1
Final position: 12
Markko Märtin’s protégé Ott Tänak got off to a flying start after he won the rally’s opening stage but a front-right puncture on Stage 2 dropped the young driver back to second. Stage 3, however, saw Tänak take advantage of Juho Hanninen’s misfortune and the young Estonian moved into the lead where he remained for the rest of the event. At the end of Friday’s eight stages, the Ford Fiesta S2000 driver had racked up five stage wins and was leading S-WRC by over a minute.
A further five stage wins followed for Tänak on Saturday and the driver continued to lead the S-WRC throughout the day. At the end of the second day, Tänak had extended his lead in the S-WRC to over two minutes and was placed 12th overall.
The final day of Rallye de France saw Tänak adopt a cautious driving approach in order to consolidate his lead in the category and the driver pulled into the final service in Strasbourg leading the S-WRC by just under three minutes.
Ott Tänak said:
“Apart from the puncture on Friday and the scare we had after a spin yesterday we had a good run this weekend. We had a good lead after the first day but we needed to stay focused in order to keep our car out of trouble. We saw a lot of incidents over the weekend and the most important thing was to keep in front of everyone and to get the points for the championship. Now we have only rally to go in the S-WRC and for sure, it will be a big battle as I think I have a good feeling on asphalt now. Maybe the battle wasn’t so big here but it definitely will be in Spain and we will be fighting to the end.”
S-WRC position: 3
Final position: 15
Former Junior World Rally Champion Martin Prokop was unhappy with the set-up on his Ford Fiesta S2000 for the majority of Friday’s stages but despite this the Czech driver held third in S-WRC overnight – only 8.8 seconds behind Brynildsen in second.
The second day of Rallye de France saw the battle for second place continue but Brynildsen edged ahead to finish the day 9.8 seconds ahead of Prokop.
Day 3 saw Prokop’s hopes of catching Brynildsen slip out of his reach. An S-WRC stage win on the rally’s penultimate stage saw Prokop narrow the gap but the closing Power Stage proved too short a distance and the driver had to settle for third. Prokop’s performance still gives him a mathematical chance of winning the S-WRC but with 17 points now separating the Czech driver and the championship leader, Prokop’s hopes of winning the S-WRC title look challenging.
Martin Prokop said:
“I think I’ve lost the championship this weekend. I was pushing like hell to try and get ahead of Brynildsen today but there just wasn’t enough distance to edge ahead. There is still a mathematical chance that I could win but I would need to win 17 points in Spain and for Hanninen and Tanak to crash out which I don’t think will happen! I wasn’t feeling confident on Friday at all - we had the wrong set-up in the car and it was the worst day I’ve had in a long time.”
S-WRC position: 4
Final position: 16
Portugal’s Bernardo Sousa had an unfortunate start when he overshot a junction on Stage 2, struck a post and went off the road into a ditch. Shortly afterwards Sousa rolled his Ford Fiesta S2000 causing rear left and roof damage but the determined driver battled on and held fifth in S-WRC overnight.
Sousa lost time on Saturday morning with a puncture but three top two stage times followed and the driver moved up to fourth in S-WRC going into the final day.
The final day of Rallye de France saw a trouble-free day for the reigning Portuguese Rally Champion and Sousa pulled into the end of day service after a difficult rally with 12 well-deserved championship points.
Bernardo Sousa said:
“It’s been a difficult weekend but I’ve made it to the end and with some good experience driving on asphalt. I know that I can’t move any further up the standings as there’s too much of a gap between myself and Prokop. I still look forward to competing in Spain for the experience and I will just try to enjoy the stages and find a good pace. It’s been a good year in the S-WRC – I finished eighth last year and, for sure, fourth is a big improvement.”