WRC – Tänak grabs Friday morning lead in New Zealand
Ott Tänak headed a tight three-way scrap for Repco Rally New Zealand, bragging rights as just 2.6sec blanketed the leading trio on Friday morning.
The Hyundai i20 N driver set the pace on Thursday evening’s super special but immediately surrendered his lead to M-Sport Ford Puma pilot Craig Breen in wet conditions on Friday’s Whaanga Coast opener.
Nothing could split the pair over the 31.48km of Te Akau South but Tänak quickly found his feet in Te Akau North – blitzing his rival by 5.9sec to end the loop 2.6sec to the good.
Third overall went to Elfyn Evans, who brought his Toyota GR Yaris to the tyre fitting zone in Raglan with the same overall time as Breen.
Gus Greensmith made it two Pumas in the top-four and trailed the frontrunners by 9.0sec. The Briton claimed his first gravel stage win at Whaanga Coast but was unable to maintain that pace after lacking confidence in his pace notes.
There were no problems to report for eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier, although the part-time Yaris driver admitted he felt slightly out of practice on his first outing since Safari Rally Kenya in June. He trailed Greensmith by seven-tenths of a second in fifth.
Ogier’s team-mate and championship leader Kalle Rovanperä was a second further back and faced the trickiest conditions of all competitors running first on the road. He ended a whopping 30.2sec clear of seventh-placed Thierry Neuville, who endured a torrid morning.
Neuville struggled to keep the rear end of his Hyundai under control and hemorrhaged time with two spins. With no mid-leg service, the Belgian driver fears he may lose more precious seconds when the loop is repeated this afternoon.
“Two stages, two spins,” Neuville grumbled. “It’s very hard to keep the car in line. I don’t know if it’s the dampers or something, but I am not sure what we can do now. We will continue to lose time.”
Takamoto Katsuta lacked confidence in his Yaris but still held eighth overall by 2.6sec from Oliver Solberg despite a spin on the second stage. Solberg was also unhappy and complained of a lack of power aboard his Hyundai.
Home hero Hayden Paddon completed the leaderboard in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2. The Kiwi won two out of three stages in WRC2 to open up a 33.8sec lead in the premier support category. He heads Poland’s rally hero Kajetan Kajetanowicz in a Škoda Fabia Evo, and Italian driver Lorenzo Bertelli in his first outing with the Ford Puma Rally1 hybrid.