Tänak fearlessly rips through Sardinian stages to master SWRC
Young Estonian Ott Tänak and his co-driver Kuldar Sikk (EST) flawlessly navigated their Ford Fiesta S2000 with Michelin tyres through the testing stages of Rally d’Italia Sardegna to win the third round of the 2011 FIA Super 2000 World Rally Championship. Relentless as ever in pursuit of victory, Tänak made his Italian debut this weekend, but was undaunted by the unfamiliar stages and attacked them flat out, leading only his second WRC event in a Super 2000 car from start to finish. A 2010 Pirelli Star Driver, Tänak proved his prestige with two PWRC wins last season, but unfortunately retired in Mexico, his opening SWRC round this year, without having revealed his full potential. Tänak returned to prove a point in Sardinia and was untouchable, picking up maximum SWRC points, promoting him to the top of the SWRC standings, winning eleven stages and finishing seventh overall, the highest ever position claimed on any WRC event by an SWRC competitor.
Impossible as catching Tänak proved, Škoda driver Juho Hänninen (FIN) refused to be deterred and powered through the stages to come home second, putting his Estonian rival under pressure to the very end. Despite a difficult opening day plagued by brake problems, Hänninen climbed to second on SS5 and held his position, focusing on trying to match Tänak’s formidable pace. He didn’t see the times he wanted in the morning and entered Day Two midday service 53 seconds behind the Ford driver, but as he dug in during the afternoon, Tänak began to feel the pressure. By the end of the rally, Hänninen had reduced the gap to only 26.7 seconds. While this wasn’t enough to catch Tänak, it earnt him 18 more SWRC points, four WRC points for eighth overall, and reminded everyone of the phenomenal pace the Finn is capable of.
The final place on the SWRC podium went to six times FIA Middle East Rally Champion Nasser Al- Attiyah (QAT, Ford). After a good start on Day One put him straight into second, a spin followed by a broken rear anti-roll bar on SS4 meant Al-Attiyah fell to third behind Hänninen. When his Fiesta, already sporting a puncture, then caught fire 700m before the end of SS6 due to an oil leak, Al-Attiyah lost in excess of a minute to his Finnish rival. The fire extinguished, Al-Attiyah refused to be deterred and continued through the Day One stages, impressively holding his third position. Days Two and Three were less eventful for the 2006 PWRC Champion and he was delighted to overcome his troubles and claim 15 SWRC points, finish tenth overall and earn one WRC point.
It was 2009 JWRC Champion Martin Prokop (CZE, Ford) who finished fourth after four fires over the course of the rally. All were extinguished without causing significant damage, but those on SS10 and SS17 cost him more than two minutes altogether, leaving him almost three minutes off third placed Al- Attiyah’s pace at the end of the rally. His attempts to mount a challenge weren’t helped after his request to start SS3 after his allocated time was denied, and a subsequent four minute time penalty applied.
A steady drive left Hermann Gassner Junior (DEU, Škoda) in fifth, followed by the SWRC’s youngest competitor Karl Kruuda (EST, Škoda). Having started the event topping the SWRC standings, Kruuda fell to second following Tänak’s victory, but remained only two SWRC points behind his fellow Estonian and ready to fight back on Acropolis Rally of Greece, the fourth round of the 2011 SWRC.
Frigyes Turán (HUN, Ford) was the last of the SWRC finishers, earning six Championship points after Jordan SWRC winner Bernardo Sousa (PRT, Ford) unfortunately retired on the road section following SS16 when his Fiesta’s alternator broke.
1st – Ott Tänak (EST): “It was a very difficult rally for me as it was my first time here. We managed to take the lead from the first stage and kept everybody behind until the end. Juho [Hänninen] tried to put some pressure on us yesterday, but luckily we were able to handle it and keep him behind. I’m really happy with the car and the team who did a fantastic job over the weekend.”
2nd – Juho Hänninen (FIN): “I tried to push hard yesterday and put some pressure on Ott [Tänak], but it wasn’t enough. Today we played it safe as there was no point in taking risks, because Ott was just too fast. We are very happy with our performance though. We set some good stage times and these 18 points are very good for the Championship.”
3rd – Nasser Al-Attiyah (QAT): “Considering the problems we had and the time we lost on Day One, third is quite good. It’s a shame because I think we could have won this one, but that’s rally! We started this year on the wrong foot so this result is very important for us. Now I want to prepare for Greece and try to get a good result there as well.”
Following evidence the stewards received from the Clerk of the Course, they removed the four minute time penalty previously given to Car 21 driven by Martin Prokop (CZE, Ford) for failing to enter SS3 at his allocated time. This promotes Prokop to third place in the SWRC and tenth overall at Rally d’Italia Sardegna. He is now also leading the Championship on a tie break with this weekend’s SWRC winner Ott Tänak.