Tänak retires from Rally Poland lead – DirtFish

Ott Tänak’s Rally Poland curse has struck again, as the Hyundai driver retired midway through Friday’s opening stage.

The 2019 world champion had targeted redemption in Poland, having lost likely wins in 2016 and 2017 with a puncture and crash respectively.

Tänak had been putting in the fastest split times early on during the Stańczyki test, the longest of the rally at 18.3 miles. But around the halfway mark Tänak was stopped by the side of the road and out of the rally, with apparent damage to the front-left side of his hood and steam pouring out.

Road sweeping was in full effect on Friday’s opening test, with the later runners dominating proceedings.

Andreas Mikkelsen, making his first start of the season on gravel in Hyundai’s third car, set the fastest time and took a 2.2s lead. He clipped a bale and damaged the left-rear bodywork, admitting his pace note for that corner had been too aggressive.

While Tänak’s retirement was a shock there was an even bigger one to come: Mārtiņš Sesks went second fastest on Stańczyki, only 0.3s off Mikkelsen’s benchmark, despite running a Ford Puma Rally1 that is carrying ballast in place of the 135bhp hybrid system.

A flabbergasted Sesks could hardly comprehend that he’d gone only 0.3s off the pace on his first proper test in a Rally1 car: “What?” he responded after being informed of his stage time, his eyes widening. “Why? Why So fast? I have to think now.”

Kalle Rovanperä completes the podium positions, 7.9s off the top spot, as he continued to struggle with the lack of preparation caused by being Sébastien Ogier’s last-minute replacement.

“The driving was really s***,” said Rovanperä. “It’s so difficult on this rally. I don’t remember the stages like you should. I’m driving really s*** but that’s how it is, I cannot take more risks because I don’t know where I’m going.”

Fourth place is a tie between M-Sport’s lead points-nominated car Adrien Fourmaux and Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, who are both eight seconds off the lead.

Grégoire Munster is running sixth, 4.8s behind his M-Sport team-mate Fourmaux, while Takamoto Katsuta languishes in seventh place, 19.1s off top spot as he struggled to find the feeling he wanted from his GR Yaris Rally1.

Championship leader Thierry Neuville props up the rear of the Rally1 field, already 21.2s off the pace after struggling with opening the road: “It’s massive cleaning in there,” he said. “Very different conditions to the recce. There’s nothing we can do so far. It’s much drier; it was very humid during recce and quite good grip but now it’s 5cm of loose – I have no chance.”

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