Day one: 77.31 miles; 11 stages Weather: overcast then sunny 16-29 celsius ■ Andreas Mikkelsen is flying through the morning stages, but can’t get comfortable with his VW Polo R WRC on the second run. He’s struggling with understeer. ■ The Norwegian’s set-up issue, allied to a monster charge from Ott Tanak, mean the Estonian moves into the lead with fastest time on SS8 and remains there for the rest of the day, making history for the Drive DMACK World Rally Team, which leads a WRC round overnight for the first time. ■ Hayden Paddon’s no stranger to leading rallies, but he has been a stranger to getting through Friday without fault. The Kiwi was relieved to end day one third without any issues. ■ Sebastien Ogier’s pre-event joviality at fatherhood was understandably short-lived once it came to sweeping the stones aside for his rivals. Once again, the Frenchman has turned in a fantastic effort to hold fourth – his main concern? The deeper gravel to come tomorrow. The driver of the third factory Polo, Jari-matti Latvala, wasn’t in the best of moods at the end of the day. He couldn’t find his fast head and was dropped by the competition, ending the day sixth behind Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai.
End of day one: 1 Tanak/ Molder 1h01m23.0s; 2 Mikkelsen/jaeger +4.2s; 3 Paddon/ Kennard +10.2s; 4 Ogier/ Ingrassia +16.3s; 5 Neuville/ Gilsoul +20.4s; 6 Latvala/anttila +36.6s
Day two: 77.41 miles; 7 stages Weather: sunny 20-34 celsius ■ Tanak enjoys the perfect morning, taking a clean sweep of the first run at the northern stages, building his lead to 18s at the halfway point. There are more hard DMACKS fitted to Tanak’s Fiesta for the afternoon and, while he misses out on the scratch times, he still adds to his advantage at the head of the field. ■ Mikkelsen’s car has undergone some suspension tweaks and he’s happier with the set-up – that confidence stays with him into the afternoon, where he continues to push as hard as he can. Going straight on at a junction in the final long stage costs him four precious seconds in his pursuit of the Fiesta out front. ■ Paddon capitalises on Mikkelsen’s mishap, hauling his Hyundai closer to the second placed man on Saturday night. They’re just 6.5s apart at the close of play. Like the man ahead, Paddon had tweaked the set-up of his i20 and found he’d gone the right way for day two. ■ Neuville’s grip on fourth strengthened, but his hopes of improving were spoiled slightly when the manual gearshift connector (used if the paddle fails) broke and flailed around in the footwell – distracting him in SS13. ■ Latvala improved when he wrestled fifth from Ogier (not a sentence one writes every day…) and then he ended it with fastest time in SS16. Ogier had predicted more cleaning than ever on day two and he wasn’t wrong – he admitted it might well have been the worst day ever.
End of day two: 1 Tanak/ Molder 2h05m37.2s; 2 Mikkelsen/jaeger +21.3s; 3 Paddon/ Kennard +27.8s; 4 Neuville/ Gilsoul +43.5s; 5 Latvala/anttila +1m04.5s; 6 Ogier/ Ingrassia +1m08.1s.
Day three: 37.03 miles; 4 stages Weather: rain 20-34 celsius ■ Tanak’s hopes of a maiden win are shot with a penultimate stage puncture. He drops 35s and hands a 16-second advantage to Polo driver Mikkelsen with one test to run. ■ Rain is bringing chaos to the entire field – with one chicane in Sady causing significant problems. Dani Sordo whacks it first, but gets back to service then biffs a bank and retires. ■ Stephane Lefebvre and Eric Camilli both endure a SS19 to forget. Lefebvre has damaged the rear of his DS3 while Camilli’s gone off the road after the flying finish. In the end, with the main crews through, the organisers have decided to cancel the second run through Baranowo. Continued from page 27
If that sounds harsh on the Polo driver, it’s absolutely not meant to be. He drove a magnificent rally, more than worthy of a win. Like Tanak, Mikkelsen had come within an ace of winning Poland 12 months ago. But this time he delivered.
And that win had its foundations in Sardinia, when he took the brave decision to drop time and possible powerstage points, to stay behind Dani Sordo in the championship – forcing the Spaniard to run second on the road.
Mikkelsen made full use of that extra set of Michelins, sweeping a line for his Volkswagen – particularly on Saturday, when he pushed the Polo as hard as he would dare, and it would go.
Every time he opened the door at the stage end he was electric – the energy coming out of the car was immense and a marked contrast to Tanak five cars further back.
“I cannot go faster,” said Mikkelsen. “I’m giving it absolutely everything I’ve got.”
He’d struggled to get comfortable with a wildly understeering VW on Friday afternoon. But his ability to cope with that and then get immediately back into the groove when he and his engineer Richard Browne found the sweet spot on Saturday was utterly admirable.
As for Sunday, anybody who came through that rain and those ruts could claim to be a winner. The conditions were as tough as they come in the world championship; Wales at its worst couldn’t impart such savagery on a world-class field.
Watching Tanak cross the line of the final stage was confirmation the dream had died. There was barely a murmur from within M-sport. This was the moment the roof was supposed to be six inches higher than it had been all week.
Instead, the cheer went to Volkswagen and the series’ sixth different winner in as many rallies. Such things paled into insignificance in the face of the emotion which would follow.
Tanak got out of his car and walked away. His colleagues weren’t having that. They gathered around him to offer consolation, then step forward Sebastien Ogier to demonstrate the true depth of feeling for one of their own. The world champion hoisted Tanak onto his own shoulders and carried him back towards the car.
It was one of those moments when sport delivers on a human level.
The champ’s act was even more impressive given the weekend he’d endured. Two days on the knifeedge of a half-decent stage time and bunging his motor into boonies had taken its toll on him. He looked tired and was tired of talking the same talk for another week. Sixth place was scant reward for such effort.
Ahead of him Hayden Paddon and Thierry Neuville combined to land Hyundai a nice points haul with third and fourth, while VW was, quite frankly, let down by Jari-matti Latvala, who simply couldn’t dial himself into the speed needed – a worrying state of affairs for a Finn, who was far from flattered by fifth.
Latvala’s woes were put on ice. The WRC had more to worry about as Tanak returned to Mikolajki for the final time. Twenty four hours earlier, the biggest concern had been re-booking flights. Brivio’s flight was tight for any sort of celebration.
“Don’t worry,” said Cormack early afternoon on Saturday, “you’re not going anywhere…”
Twenty-four hours on, the Italian architect of DMACK’S finest hour threw his arms around Tanak. Then threw his bags in the boot and headed south. Cormack stood firm. “We’ll be back,” he said. ■
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