Hyundai driver Ott Tanak ended the longest day on the WRC calendar so far, in the lead to put further pressure on championship leader Kalle Rovanpera. The Estonian leads a group of four drivers that are separated by 7.2s. Welshman, Elfyn Evans is just 0.2s behind Tanak with Sebastien Ogier ending the day third after suffering damage to his spoiler. Rovanpera is the final driver in fourth.
The Rally got underway on Thursday with a 1.78km fly through of Pukekawa Domain in Auckland. Tanak set the pace in a stage he did not love but still beat Ford’s Craig Breen by 0.9s.
“We will see what we can do” said Tanak. “My head was spinning in here and I had no idea where the road was going – it was not so fun actually!”
Following on from Breen, Thierry Neuville finished in third place with Evans, Takamoto Katsuta and Rovanpera finishing in the top six. Tanak is currently second in the standings and despite saying otherwise, he will be trying to delay Rovanpera yet again here.
With Friday came rain, and a temporary leader in the form of Craig Breen. The Irishman made the best of the wet conditions to immediately takeover the lead of the rally, however it would be wrestled back in the very next stage. After Tanak regained the lead, he would be dominant until the clouds cleared at the start of the second pass of Whaanga Coast. An early road position combined with a drying surface meant that he dropped positions to Evans and Ogier, the latter gaining time from fifth place thanks to a lower starting position.
The weather would come back to haunt Ogier though as despite initially leading by 8.2s, he had a brush with a tree which damaged the rear of his Yaris and ripped the upper half of the spoiler from the car. This incident allowed Tanak to regain the lead with the consistent Evans on tow.
Rovanpera’s position of opening the road meant the Toyota driver missed a lot of the heavier rain on SS6. This allowed the Finn to finish 0.5s behind Ogier and still in touching distance of the top spot.
Despite a quick start from Breen, it all went south for the Puma driver. Breen had to retire the car after sliding down a banking which caught Colin Mcrae out back in 2002. Gus Greensmith, who had run second early in the day, eventually slipped back to being 36.6s adrift of Rovanpera but in fifth place.
Thierry Neuville suffered two spins but after a setup change, he regained composure and moved to within 1.8s of Greensmith. Oliver Solberg and Takamoto Katsuta finished the day in seventh and eighth, respectively.
Top 6 after Friday:
- Tanak 1hr 36min 48.2s
- Evans +0.2s
- Ogier +6.7s
- Rovanpera +7.2s
- Greensmith +43.8s
- Neuville +45.6s