Ott Tänak Takes WRC Sardinia

Ott Tänak held on in Sardinia on Sunday to record his maiden FIA World Rally Championship triumph. 
Victory in the gruelling four-day rough road encounter was his first success in 73 starts and he became the fifth different driver to win in seven rounds during this unpredictable season. 
Driving a Ford Fiesta, the Estonian headed Jari-Matti Latvala’s Toyota Yaris by 12.3sec after 312km of action on scorching island roads. Thierry Neuville was a further 55.4sec back in a Hyundai i20, closing the gap on championship leader Sébastien Ogier to 18 points.
It was Estonia’s first WRC win since Markko Märtin’s 2004 success in Spain and promoted Tänak to third in the standings as the season reached its midpoint. Märtin went on to become Tänak’s mentor in his climb to the sport’s top level. 
The 29-year-old's win was sealed after a late scare when a hole allowed the Fiesta’s cockpit to fill with dust in the sandy conditions. With his visibility seriously impaired, Tänak overshot a junction on Sunday’s opening speed test and slithered into bushes. 

It offered a glimmer of hope to Latvala, who was chasing down a 23.3sec deficit, but when the Finn stalled his engine in the next special stage, he conceded defeat. Tänak measured his pace through the final three tests to score an emotional win. 
“It was a difficult weekend but the first half of this season has been great,” said Tänak. “The new car and a strong team-mate is making me push hard. I hope it’s the first of many wins because it’s all coming together now.” 
Latvala headed a strong weekend for Toyota Gazoo Racing, with three cars in the top six. He avoided major problems in a rally of attrition to remain firmly in the title battle. 
Belgian Neuville led initially and stayed in contention despite enduring the worst of the conditions on the slippery gravel roads on Friday. A brake problem on Saturday cost a minute and ended his bid. 
Esapekka Lappi was a remarkable fourth in only his second World Rally Car outing. He won six of the 19 tests in his Yaris to finish 1min 12.4sec ahead of Ogier. 
Reigning champion Ogier struggled for grip throughout the weekend, but claimed fifth when a power steering problem delayed Juho Hänninen. Sixth matched Hånninen’s career-best result. 

Others falling by the wayside included two of the early leaders Kris Meeke and Hayden Paddon – both Citroën and Hyundai drivers crashed out of contention when heading the pack.
 Mark Webber joined Red Bull TV as guest reporter in Sardinia and, as in Monte Carlo, he really enjoyed the experience. 
“It’s been amazing to be guest reporter for two rallies this year,” he enthused. “I don’t think I’m going to have time to do any more this season but I definitely want to come back next year. 
“Most of all these cars are just amazing to watch. It’s obviously not quite at the level of the Group B era – when the cars were at their fiercest – but it’s still very, very rewarding for drivers, who’ve got something to hang on to again. The noise: they just sound sensational. It’s a nice tonic in this modern era of motorsport where there’s generally a lot of restrictions on things to make them slower and safer. 
“Ott Tänak didn’t really make any mistakes: he had a great run and that’s how he won. He’s come close before but this one was really deserved. He took the rally lead on our live stage and you could see from watching him there just how on it he was. Very clean, very neat, very controlled. That’s two wins for M-Sport on the trot now, so they’ve clearly come up with a car that can do the business.”

 As well as relishing the latest breed of WRC supercar, Webber was also treated to a slice of the sport’s history. 
“Another amazing experience I had was getting a quick drive in a Lancia Delta Integrale with Miki Biasion, who was World Rally Champion in 1988 and 1989. It was fantastic to experience a car that’s really formed a part of the sport’s history: proper old-school. 
“There’s a great old-school feel to that car: you drive along and at first it doesn’t feel like there’s that much power, then suddenly – bang! It’s all there. Believe it or not that was actually the first time I’ve driven a rally car, so to do it in such an iconic car was very special. The most amazing thing about that car was that it was so competitive for so long, and it's an era that I love: I was growing up in the 1980s and that was the period when I first became interested in motorsport, so great memories…” 
Catch all the highlights of Rally Italy and catch further insights from Mark Webber on Red Bull TV. All the programmes from Rally Italy are available on demand, meaning you can catch up with the WRC action whenever suits you. 
The second half of the WRC season begins on the fast gravel roads of Orlen 74th Rally Poland, which is based in Mikolajki on June 29 - July 2.

Rally Italia Sardegna (round 7 of 13)
  1. O Tänak / M Jarveöja (Ford Fiesta) 3hr 25min 15.1sec
  2. J-M Latvala / M Anttila (Toyota Yaris) + 12.3sec
  3. T Neuville / N Gilsou (Hyundai i20) + 1min 07.7sec
  4. E Lappi / J Ferm (Toyota Yaris) + 2min 12.9sec
  5. S Ogier / J Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta) + 3min 25.3sec
  6. J Hänninen / K Lindström (Toyota Yaris) + 3min 38.5sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 7 of 13): 
  1. Sébastien Ogier - 141 points
  2. Thierry Neuville - 123 points
  3. Ott Tänak - 108 points
  4. Jari-Matti Latvala - 107 points
  5. Dani Sordo - 70 points
  6. Elfyn Evans - 53 points
  7. Craig Breen - 43 points
  8. Hayden Paddon - 33 points
  9. Juho Hanninen - 29 points
  10. Kris Meeke - 27 points