What promised to be a sensational performance to end the 2012 World Rally Championship turned to frustration for M-Sport Ford World Rally Team's Ott Tanak, as a mistake on the final day undid his earlier hard work on Rallye de Espana.
Impressing behind the wheel of their Ford Fiesta RS WRC over the opening two days, Tanak and co-driver Kuldar Sikk led the rally in its early phase, with the Estonian setting some strong times on both gravel and asphalt and added a further two stage victories to his year's tally.
With just over 93km of competitive rallying left to run, Tanak was hunting down his second consecutive podium of the year, having finished among the silverware on the previous round. In control over SS13, he was on course to close the gap to Citroen rival Mikko Hirvonen and increased his lead over fellow Ford driver - and former rally leader - Mads Ostberg.
However, battling with less than perfect pacenotes, the 25-year old clipped a barrier 15km into SS14, losing ten seconds and fourth place in the process. Keeping his composure, the youngster staged something of a comeback over the remaining 10km to lose just five seconds to Ostberg and lay a mere 1.9secs adrift of reclaiming his fourth place.
But disaster struck through the second pass of SS16, Riudecanyes 2, as, continuing to struggle with the pacenotes, the Estonian pairing carried too much speed into a tight right-hander. Running wide, their Fiesta made contact with one of the barriers that line the smooth asphalt roads and forced an untimely end to what was set to be another strong result.
“It was a very difficult day for us, which only got worse [during the] afternoon,” Tanak sighed, “We ran wide on the first stage and hit a barrier as I was just carrying way too much speed into the corner.
“The event had been going really well before [that]. We set some good times on the first day and then I had a really good feeling on tarmac - the car felt great and I had a lot of confidence on all of the stages.
“Unfortunately, we didn't have perfect pacenotes and it was really difficult to push. We just tried our best, and it is really disappointing to end the season like this.”
Improving throughout his debut season in the WRC, Tanak has impressed in recent months. Claiming eighth position in the drivers' championship, the youngster has regularly challenged his more experienced rivals for both stage wins and overall positions. This season also saw the Estonian claim his first Power Stage victory, on Rallye Deutschland, as well as seeing him lead his first rally outright, on the first day of competition in Spain.