Ott Tanak has made it six winners from seven rounds of this season's FIA European Rally Championship with an emphatic victory on auto24 Rally Estonia - five years after his legendary team boss Markko Martin won the high-speed gravel event.
With his rapid progress followed every step of the way by thousands of enthusiastic fans, Tanak led from the start in his M-M Motorsport Ford Fiesta R5, which he shared with co-driver and fellow Estonian Raigo Molder. The 26-year-old Tanak was fastest on 10 of the 14 gravel stages and was also quickest on the auto24-Tartu City street stage in front of 30,000 spectators.
But it wasn't entirely straightforward for Tanak who had to overcome a few minor technical issues, including a fault pop-off valve, to triumph in the stunning Estonian countryside ahead of rapid Russian ERC Production Car Cup winner Alexey Lukyanuk and Timmu Korge, who made it two Estonian M-M drivers on the podium. Lukyanuk's heroic performance earned him the prestigious Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy.
“We managed to do a good pace all the rally,” said Tanak, who is the new ERC Gravel Master. “Somehow we got a good lead after Friday so today [Saturday] was about trying to enjoy and stay concentrated. The organisers have done a perfect job although it's not so easy to do a big event like this in a small place like Estonia. But they made a big event with lots of spectators.”
Behind Korge, Rainer Aus finished a strong fourth in a Lancer with Finland's Esapekka Lappi extending his ERC title advantage in fifth place for Skoda Motorsport. Peugeot 208T16 pilot Karl Kruuda took sixth with German Sepp Wiegand seventh in a second factory Fabia.
Estonian Kruuda had been a favourite for a podium prior to the start but a power issue dropped him out of contention on Friday's opening leg. Like Lappi, Wiegand struggled to match the pace of the turbo runners in his normally aspirated machine but still scored important ERC points.
Roland Murakas finished eighth, Frenchman Sebastien Chardonnet ninth in a Citroen DS3 R5, while Kristian Sohlberg completed the top 10. Chardonnet and Sohlberg were using the event to prepare for the world championship round in Finland later this month. Czech Jaromir Tarabus, who ran first on the road on both legs, finished eleventh on his return to ERC action.
Siim Plangi, who was making his debut in a Peugeot 208T16, started day two 5.6s behind Kruuda but a broken clutch and puncture in the afternoon dropped him back before he rolled into retirement on the final stage. Raul Jeets and co-driver Andrus Toom also crashed out in the closing stages, going off the road on the penultimate run. After being attended to at the scene by medical crews they were taken to hospital in Tartu for further checks. Robert Consani retired with engine failure on Friday's penultimate stage.
Meanwhile, Sander Parn overcame illness to claim ERC 2WD glory on home soil after early leader Eli Evans dropped back when he twice went off the road on day one. The Australian champion, who was fastest on two stages, eventually retired after damaging the radiator on his Honda Civic Type R following a heavy landing on Saturday afternoon. Quentin Giordano was second in class overnight after bagging back-to-back stage wins on Friday evening. However, he retired when he rolled on stage 11. Simone Tempestini dropped out of a podium place with an engine issue but there were no such problems for ERC Junior regular Fabio Andfoli, who finished a fine second, one place ahead of defending champion Zoltan Bessenyey. The Honda driver's third place puts him back into the title lead. Max Vatanen took fourth.
The FIA European Rally Championship now continues at the end of next month with the Barum Czech Rally Zlín (running from 29-31 August).
(after 15 stages, 231.55 kilometres)
1. Ott Tänak (EST)/Raigo Mölder (EST)
Ford Fiesta R5 1h49m36.4s
2. Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +47.1s
3. Timmu Kõrge (EST)/Erki Pints (EST)
Ford Fiesta R5 +55.4s
4. Rainer Aus (EST)/Simo Koskinen (EST)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution IX +2m11.7s
5. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN)
ŠKODA Fabia Super 2000 +2m17.2s
6. Karl Kruuda (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST)
Peugeot 208T16 +2m56.8s
7. Sepp Wiegand (DEU)/Frank Christian (DEU)
ŠKODA Fabia S2000 +3m24.1s
8. Roland Murakas (FIN)/Kalle Adler (FIN)
Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution X +3m41.8s
9. Sébastien Chardonnet (FRA)/Thibault de la Haye (FRA)
Citroën DS3 R5 +4m47.7s
10. Kristian Sohlberg (FIN)/Peter Flythström (FIN)
Ford Fiesta R5 +5m59.0s
FIA ERC Production Car Cup:
Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)/Alexey Arnautov (RUS) Mitsubishi Evo X
FIA ERC 2WD Championship:
Sander Pärn (EST)/James Morgan (GBR)
ERC Gravel Master:
Ott Tänak (EST)
Colin McRae ERC Flat Out Trophy:
Alexey Lukyanuk (RUS)