Estonia WRC: Hyundai in control as local hero Tanak leads Breen

A 10-stage marathon on the first full day in Estonia saw the Hyundais of Ott Tanak and Craig Breen take control of the fourth round of the 2020 FIA World Rally Championship.

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Both of the rally leaders survived a day in which many fancied runners found their progress stymied by tyre wear and punctures on the fast, flowing gravel stages.

As the rally proper began early on Saturday morning, overnight leader Esapekka Lappi’s Ford Fiesta WRC was quickly engulfed. On the opening 21km stage, Toyota’s rookie sensation Kalle Rovanpera rocketed to the top of the order while Lappi tumbled to seventh.

Rovanpera then hit trouble on the next stage when a right-rear puncture took a slice out of his bodywork, knocking off several of the car’s all-important aerodynamic components. This incident dropped him to eighth and handed the advantage to the Hyundai men led by defending world champion, Tanak. 

In front of a hugely passionate home crowd, Tanak delivered a scintillating performance to take the overall lead. By the end of the third stage of the day it was Hyundai 1-2-3, with Breen secure in second place and Thierry Neuville climbing to third. 

Behind the Hyundais, the four Toyota Yaris WRCs sat in line astern with Sebastien Ogier claiming a win on SS5 to keep ahead of Elfyn Evans, an impressive Takamoto Katsuta and young Rovanpera as he fought to regain lost ground.

The starting order was switched during the lunchtime service, giving points leader Ogier a break from sweeping the stages. Although the Frenchman was immediately able to add a stage win on SS7, Toyota’s challenge was blunted when both he and Evans were delayed by tyre problems through the afternoon. 

Rally leader Tanak remained in imperious form and a superb performance from Craig Breen saw him take wins on both SS9 and SS10, closing up on Tanak and putting a disheartening gap between them and the pursuing Toyotas.

Disaster struck third Hyundai of Thierry Neuville, however. The Belgian began to close on Breen and then slid wide on SS7, knocking the right rear corner off his i20 WRC.

As the second such retirement in a row for Neuville, winner of the season-opening Monte Carlo Rally, his chances in the drivers’ championship of this truncated 2020 season have taken a potentially terminal blow. 

Tanak therefore holds a commanding position going into the final day, with part-time teammate Breen performing a superb job of riding shotgun.

“I been pushing couple of stages, you know, just to make some gap but this afternoon, especially the middle stages, got really rough so I know I can’t risk anything,” Tanak said after the final stage of the day. “I need to definitely come through it if I want to win – or to fight – for the championship,” he added.

The WRC2 battle saw a wild game of snakes and ladders early in the day as overnight leader Mads Ostberg lost half a minute to a puncture in his Citroen C3. The Hyundai juniors also hit trouble as Ole Christian Veiby went out after damaging his engine on one of the jumps and then suffering a double puncture, while Nikolai Gryazin was delayed by several wild moments.

With the Skoda of Swedish privateer Pontus Tidemand picking its way carefully through the stages to avoid costly damage, the WRC2 leader’s baton was briefly passed to the Ford Fiesta of Frenchman Adrien Fourmaux. Once the front-runners were back up to speed, however, Ostberg thundered back to the lead and held a 38-second advantage over Gryazin at the end of the day.

Right behind Ostberg in the overall standings at the overnight halt lies Oliver Solberg’s VW Polo at the front of the WRC3 class, holding an 18-second advantage over local man Egon Kaur’s Skoda, while in the Junior WRC Latvia’s Martins Sesks leads Sami Pajari.

Rally standings after SS11:

Cla # Driver/Codriver Car Class Gap
1 8 Estonia Ott Tanak
Estonia Martin Jarveoja
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC RC1  
2 42 Ireland Craig Breen
Ireland Paul Nagle
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC RC1 9.800
3 17 France Sébastien Ogier
France Julien Ingrassia
Toyota Yaris WRC RC1 22.100
4 33 United Kingdom Elfyn Evans
United Kingdom Scott Martin
Toyota Yaris WRC RC1 34.300
5 69 Finland Kalle Rovanperä
Finland Jonne Halttunen
Toyota Yaris WRC RC1 36.700
6 18 Japan Takamoto Katsuta
United Kingdom Daniel Barritt
Toyota Yaris WRC RC1 57.900
7 4 Finland Esapekka Lappi
Finland Janne Ferm
Ford Fiesta WRC RC1 1'33.500
8 3 Finland Teemu Suninen
Finland Jarmo Lehtinen
Ford Fiesta WRC RC1 1'41.600
9 7 France Pierre-Louis Loubet
France Vincent Landais
Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC RC1 2'04.500
10 44 United Kingdom Gus Greensmith
United Kingdom Elliott Edmondson
Ford Fiesta WRC RC1 2'37.100
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Estonia WRC: M-Sport’s Esapekka Lappi takes early lead
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