The Toyota driver won the first stage – his 200thcareer stage win – and crucially was quicker than the Citroen of Esapekka Lappi, in second overall, to extend his lead of the event to 22 seconds from Lappi.
As usual, the final stage of the rally at 13:18 this afternoon will be the Power Stage, with extra championship points at stake. “That’s an important opportunity for us, but the rally win is the most important thing,” said Tänak, the championship leader. “I was actually quite surprised to win the first stage in the morning; I was just driving cleanly and looking after things.”
Lappi holds second, but is more focused on the threat from behind, as Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala took time out of him and is now only 10 seconds behind. Lappi is more unfamiliar with the final day’s stages, after crashing out last year, and admitted that the lack of familiarity was costing him time – as he drove conservatively.
Latvala didn’t, winning the second stage of the day. He wasn’t too happy with his driving on the first stage, but on SS21, it all came good. “It was faster and wider, so I was able to attack!” The Finn hasn’t given up on the runner-up spot: could it be a Toyota one-two on home territory for Tommi Mäkinen’s squad?
Citroen’s Sebastien Ogier recovered from his illness yesterday and made progress to get closer to Andreas Mikkelsen, whose Hyundai was briefly stuck in neutral. Mikkelsen still holds fourth, but Ogier is now only 1.7 seconds behind him.
The other Hyundai of Craig Breen remains sixth after SS21 ahead of the identical i20 Coupe WRC of championship contender Thierry Neuville, but it may not stay that way for much longer, with Hyundai trying to maximise Neuville’s score after a disappointing rally for the Belgian.
Ford’s Teemu Suninen continues to hold eighth, but his team mate Gus Greensmith crashed into a tree on SS21. “I was taking it a bit easy after I saw his car,” added Suninen. “Not what I wanted to see.”
This moved WRC2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä into ninth ahead of WRC2 leader Nikolay Gryazin in 10th, driving another Skoda. Tom Kristensson continues to lead Junior WRC, with a big margin over Jan Solans.
Just two stages remain today, an exact repeat of those run in the morning.
Picture: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK