Rally d'Italia Sardegna
Saturday SWRC wrap: Tanak still in command
As Rally d'Italia Sardegna returned to the more familiar roads around Olbia, Ott Tanak remained firmly on course for Super 2000 World Rally Championship honours in his MM Motorsport Ford Fiesta.
The super-quick Estonian was happier on today’s roads and admitted his pace notes were working better than on yesterday’s extremely technical tests on the west of the island. He won all three stages through the morning to build a commanding lead of close to a minute.
That gap grew in part due to Tanak’s pace and in part due to his closest rival Martin Prokop suffering a fire on the third stage. The Czech Republic driver’s problem came when the power steering leaked fluid onto the exhaust of his Fiesta.
“The fire was coming into the car,” said Prokop. “I thought we were going to have to stop. We had decided to pull over and retire, but then the fire went out, so we thought we would carry on and see what happened. See if it went on fire again later in the stage. It did catch fire again, but it wasn’t so bad this time, just a small one. But it cost us lots of time.”
Prokop’s day had started badly, catching the ailing MINI John Cooper Works WRC of Daniel Oliveira and dropping 10 seconds while running in the Brazilian’s dust did not help him narrow the gap to the flying Tanak.
Relieved to see the service park, Prokop was more than two minutes down on Tanak when he returned to the stages.
Finland’s Juho Hanninen was into second place, but try as he might, he couldn’t eat into the advantage Tanak enjoyed. Hanninen was quickest on the first stage out of service, but when Tanak hit back and nullified the Skoda driver’s scratch time, the game looked to be up for the Red Bull-backed Hanninen.
Despite his lead, Tanak remained guarded about the final day. “There’s still a long way to go,” he said. “And these are tough roads. Today was good. I have some experience here, but not as much as some of the drivers. Tomorrow I need to look after the car.”
Hanninen was frustrated: “I tried to take time from Tanak but it was tough. We lost some time in the dust this morning, but otherwise it’s been okay. The car is running well, we have no problems, but we have to go faster. He is far away, but I am trying.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah was secure in fourth, enjoying a considerably less dramatic day than yesterday on his Ford Fiesta S2000, with Bernardo Sousa fifth in another Fiesta. However, when Prokop was handed a four-minute time penalty for his delayed start to Friday’s third stage, Al-Attiyah moved into third with Prokop demoted to fourth.
Bernardo Sousa reached Saturday’s overnight halt in fifth place but nursing a sore arm, the legacy of a moment on stage 10 when he went too fast into a corner, overshot a junction and slammed into a rock.
Hanninen’s Skoda team-mate Hermann Gassner rounded out the top six, after his Fabia S2000 suffered transmission problems yesterday.
Karl Kruuda and Frigyes Turan completed the SWRC runners in seventh and eighth respectively.