OTT Tänak is in sight of his first win in the FIA World Rally Championship as he takes a 24.3 second lead into the final day of Rally Italia Sardegna on Sunday.
The M-Sport Ford Fiesta driver from Estonia seized the lead in the WRC’s seventh round after former leader Hayden Paddon damaged his Hyundai i20 Coupe on the first leg of the afternoon loop.
After a stage win in the morning, Tänak pressed home his advantage with two more in the afternoon to hold out Toyota Yaris driver Jari-Matti Latvala. Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville was third.
Tänak’s gamble to carry just one spare wheel as a precaution against punctures on Sardinia’s rocky roads improved the balance of his Fiesta.
“This afternoon was surprisingly good,” the 29-year-old said. “It has been good to drive up to now with a safe margin but now we can push more. I don’t see any reason why Latvala should be any quicker than me tomorrow.”
New Zealander Paddon was emotional after his demise in the 13th stage.
He had kept his pursuers at bay all morning in Sardinia’s scorching heat and was almost 10sec clear of Tänak when he swiped a bank and wrecked the rear-right of the Hyundai.
He limped to the stage finish with flames billowing from the wheel arch and retirement was instant.
“Amateur mistake. I turned in too early and clipped a bank on the inside. I’ve let everybody down,” he lamented.
Latvala climbed from fourth to second in his Toyota Yaris, although he was slowed by dust kicked up by a delayed Mads Østberg. Latvala’s team has requested rally officials credit him with the lost time.
Neuville was 37.9sec behind Latvala. The Belgian was Paddon’s closest challenger until brake failure cost a minute in the morning’s final stage.
Esapekka Lappi was fourth on only his second outing in a World Rally Car. Brake problems hampered the Finn but he overhauled Yaris teammate Juho Hänninen in the final stage, when Hänninen spun and his power steering failed. The gap is 31.3sec, but the new Toyota Gazoo team celebrated having three cars in the top-five.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was sixth after conceding two minutes when he changed a puncture. New recruit Andreas Mikkelsen is the top Citroën driver in eighth.
The final day of the rally is the shortest, with four stages that make up only 42.04 kilometres of competitive action.
Outright standings after Saturday:
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 2h56m37.3s
2 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +24.3s
3 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m02.2s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m10.8s
5 Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +2m42.1s
6 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m26.1s
7 Mads Ostberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m56.0s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Citroen C3 WRC) +7m47.6s
9 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +9m52.9s
10 Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (Ford Fiesta R5) +9m53.8s