Tänak conquers conditions to challenge for lead in Spain

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak showcased some impressive form over the first day of competition in the closing round of the FIA World Rally Championship (FIA) at the 2012 Rally de España today.

Challenging for the lead in the event’s early phase, the Estonian lies fifth ahead of tomorrow’s asphalt action while, suffering from illness, team-mate John Powell was unfortunately forced to retire for the day.

Ott Tanak and Kuldar Sikk, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team
Ott Tanak and Kuldar Sikk, Ford Fiesta RS WRC, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

Photo by: xpb.cc

Tackling two loops of three stages west of the rally base in Salou – culminating with a short dash through the town’s coastal streets – M-Sport’s duo were faced with a mix of tricky gravel tests interspersed with 15 km of twisting asphalt.

With torrential rain and inclement weather the forecast of the morning, tyre choice and road position were crucial as a number of crews fell by the wayside. Rising to the challenge, the opening tests saw Tänak build upon his impressive performance – and first WRC podium – at the previous round in Sardinia.

Despite leading the rally after SS2 and adding another stage victory to his year’s tally, the morning loop had its moments for the 25-year-old Estonian.

Partnered by countryman Kuldar Sikk, the pairing opted to run Michelin’s optimum soft compound tyre but lost time by overshooting a junction on SS1 and clipping a rock that knocked the steering out of alignment on SS2.

But even this could not halt the youngster who held second place to trail fellow Ford driver and rally-leader, Mads Østberg, by just 2.7 seconds going into the afternoon loop.

Taking a composed approach through the afternoon’s stages, Tänak ensured he kept his Ford Fiesta RS WRC firmly on the road.

Preparing for an attack on tomorrow’s Tarmac tests, the youngster proved he had the speed in the earlier stages, before demonstrating his maturity over the second pass.

Struggling on used tyres, a lack of grip through the final stages cost Tänak his second place.

But as ever unfazed, he established a consistent pace by setting a string of top times – including the second fastest time on SS6 – to consolidate fifth place and maintain a gap of just 8.2 seconds to Mikko Hirvonen in fourth.

Elsewhere, treacherous conditions for the later runners – which challenged even nine-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb – may have meant John Powell found his first venture to the world stage a little trickier than expected, but the Caribbean driver’s spirit and enthusiasm was amongst some of the most noteworthy stories in the field.

Struggling with the long stages and feeling unwell, Powell and co-driver Michael Fennell took the difficult decision to retire for the day following the morning loop.

Taking the afternoon to recover, the charismatic driver from Trinidad and Tobago will hopefully be back behind the wheel of his Ford Fiesta RS WRC tomorrow.

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team

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About this article
Series WRC
Drivers Sébastien Loeb , Mikko Hirvonen , Kuldar Sikk , Ott Tanak , John Powell
Teams M-Sport
Article type Leg report
Tags fennell, ford, hirvonen, loeb, michelin, powell, rally catalunya, rally de espana, sikk, spain, wrc