WRC Rally Turkey Review: Hat-trick for Tanak
With another round of World Rally Championship done and dusted, the championship battle is even closer, with Ott Tanak getting in the mix of the title fight.
Thierry Neuville still leads the championship, but The Estonian, Ott Tanak has brought himself back in contention with a hat-trick of wins in Finland, Germany and Turkey, putting him just 13 points astray of the Belgian.
Also, hot on their heels is Sebastian Ogier, who now trails Thierry Neuville by 23 points and is 3rd in the championship.
Talking about the Rally itself, It was an action-packed thriller, with some of the most demanding and gruelling stages on the WRC calendar.
Looking back at last few years, The roads of Marmaris provided for some of the roughest rally stages in recent history, which meant that drivers had to nurse their cars and it was more about being the smartest instead of being the fastest.
Friday saw championship leader, Thierry Neuville ending the day on top of the times with Sebastian Ogier in a close 2nd with Andreas Mikkelsen in 3rd.
It was a surprise to see Thierry still leading after the first proper day of the rally, as him being the first to tackle the stages, Thierry was at a disadvantage, which typically is always the case as the cars behind on gravel stages benefit from the sweeping gravel effect.
“We’re involved in a fantastic fight for the leading positions which is a great way to start this new event,” said Neuville. “The conditions we faced today were really tough. These roads have been a completely different challenge to any other we’ve faced this season.”
Saturday saw massive drama with both championship protagonist, Thierry Neuville and Sebastian Ogier retiring, with Estonian Ott Tanak capitalising on their misfortunes and taking the lead at the end of the day.
Leg one Rally Leader, Thierry Neuville had been setting the pace on the opening stage on Saturday, when the front left damper punched through the bonnet of his Hyundai i20, The Belgian limped to the flying finish but was unable to fix the front left suspension and had to retire for the rest of the day.
On the same stage, Sebastian Ogier had a heavy landing which damaged his front right wishbone, The Frenchman with advice from fellow team-mate Elfyn Evans and Veteran Henning Solberg was able to repair the wishbone and set the fastest stage time on the subsequent stage.
"I thought I would never make it. We tried to put the track control arm back but the suspension wishbone was too tight in the sub-frame and I couldn't fit it in. I fought like hell and was very close to giving up because I had no energy," said Ogier.
But, then during the opening stage of Saturday afternoon following service, he slid wide on a slow hairpin and beached his Ford Fiesta.
"It was difficult to accept," said Ogier. "I did this silly mistake on a slow corner. The only explanation I have is that my brain wasn't working for a short time.
"I still have trouble understanding the mistake I made.
"Maybe the energy I used in the morning contributed to a certain lack of clarity, but the bottom line is that, between two very tight corners, I didn't take in one of Julien's pacenotes, I braked too late and we slid into a tree at 5kph.
"In 99% of cases this wouldn't have mattered at all, but that ground was very soft, so that the car sank into it as soon as I tried to move forwards.
"It was impossible to get going again.
With Ogier and Neuville retired, It looked as if Andreas Mikkelsen would now inherit the lead, but the Norwegian suffered from a broken front differential on the opening loop of Afternoon stages, with his Hyundai i20 limited to rear wheel drive, he fell down the standings to end the day in 5th place.
Ott Tanak himself didn't feel at ease with his Yaris but kept it on the road to end the day as Rally leader.
"We knew from the beginning it would be tough and we didn't have the performance so we had to keep it on the road," he said.
His fellow team-mate and flying Finn Jari Matti Latvala was in 2nd place after his Yaris suffered from Hydraulic pressure problems, but the Finn was able to continue and would end few seconds adrift of Tanak at the end of the day.
Fellow Countryman Esapekka Lappi had no such luck when he slid wide and hit clipped a bank with his Yaris teetering on the edge of a steep embankment.
Also, it was a day to forget for Citroen, as Craig Breen's C3 burnt to ashes while Mad's Ostberg stopped with a Turbo failure early in the day.
Going into the final day of Rally Turkey, Toyota instructed both of his drivers to maintain position, while Ogier and Neuville prepared for power stage points.
Thierry took his i20 at snail's pace through the opening loop of stages conserving his tyres for the final power-stage points.
Meanwhile, At M-Sport, Welshman Elfyn Evans played team game after he started the penultimate stage 5 minutes early to incur a time penalty which would eventually give his team-mate Ogier tenth-place as Evans dropped from the points paying positions.
Neuville pushed his i20 to the absolute limit on the power stage, which he ended up being the fastest giving him 5 points, Sebastian Ogier was hot on his heels with a 2nd place finish in the power stage giving him 4 points, but with Elfyn Evans dropping back, Ogier finished 10th overall which gave him 1 additional point.
That meant that both Neuville and Ogier left Turkey with 5 points each.
Meanwhile, at the front, it was a Toyota 1-2 with Tanak leading Jari Matti Latvala by 22.3 seconds.
Hyundai's Hayden Paddon had an uneventful rally, with the Kiwi finishing in 3rd place 1 minute and 46 seconds adrift of Tanak.
Among the WRC2 contenders, Jan Kopecky took the win with Simone Tempestini in 2nd place and Chris Ingram in 3rd. This was the 5th consecutive WRC2 win for Jan, and he is all set to win this year's WRC2 championship.