Ott Tanak of Estonia and Martin Jarveoja of Estonia compete with their Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC during Day 1 of the FIA Rally Championship Estonia on 4 September 2020.
Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images
World champion Ott Tanak grabbed the lead in the Rally of Estonia on Saturday, the first race in six months due to the coronavirus, as he eyed a fourth victory in his home event.
Tanak, in a Hyundai, went to the top of the charts in the morning and never looked back.
He finished the day with an 11.7sec advantage over team-mate Craig Breen with six-time champion Sebastien Ogier, in a Toyota, 28.7sec off the pace.
“I attacked during a few stages to create the gap but, this afternoon, some stages were so brittle that I knew I shouldn’t take any risks,” said Tanak, who won his home rally in 2014, 2018 and 2019, before it became a full World Rally Championship event.
“If I want to fight in the championship, then I have to come through. It’s been a demanding and tricky day, so high-speed and rough.”
Tanak’s caution is justified.
In the season-opener in Monte Carlo back in February, he suffered a huge crash.
His two second places in Sweden and Mexico left him fifth in the championship, 24 points behind Ogier ahead of the lockdown.
Breen impressed on the sandy tracks, winning two of the day’s nine stages.
“You feel a super-hero on some of these stages, they are some of the fastest I’ve driven,” he said
France’s Ogier, the world championship leader when the series was halted in mid-March by the pandemic, saw his push hindered by problems with his tyres.
Belgium’s Thierry Neuville, in another Hyundai, was forced to pull out on stage seven, the afternoon’s opening stage, when he lost a rear wheel.
Neuville was third at the time but his suspension was smashed when he hit a rut and bounced off a bank.
He drove five kilometres to the end of the stage on three wheels.
1. Ott Tanak-Martin Jarveoja (EST/Hyundai) 1h15:08.4, 2. Craig Breen-Paul Nagle (IRL/Hyundai) at 11.7, 3. Sebastien Ogier-Julien Ingrassia (FRA/Toyota) 28.7, 4. Kalle Rovanpera-Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Toyota) 34.9, 5. Elfyn Evans-Scott Martin (GBR/Toyota) 36.8, 6. Takamoto Katsuta-Daniel Barritt (JPN-GBR/Toyota) 1:01.9, 7. Esapekka Lappi-Janne Ferm (FIN/M-Sport Ford) 1:41.7, 8. Teemu Suninen-Jarmo Lehtinen (FIN/M-Sport Ford) 1:50.9, 9. Pierre-Louis Loubet-Vincent Landais (FRA/Hyundai) 2:15.2, 10. Gus Greensmith-Elliott Edmonson (GBR/M-Sport Ford) 3:03.1
Stage winners: Ogier 3 (SS1, SS5, SS7), Lappi 1 (SS1), Rovanpera 2 (SS2, SS11), Tanak 3 (SS3, SS4, SS8), Neuville 1 (SS6), Breen 2 (SS9, SS10)