Hyundai Motorsport’s Arctic Rally Finland preparations continued with a trip to Estonia for Saturday’s Otepää Winter Rally, on which home hero Ott Tänak bettered team-mate Thierry Neuville by 33.4 seconds to take victory.
The Hyundai pair contested the rally to learn how to attack the snow in conditions where repeated runs of the same roads and a large entry list meant ruts would appear, and in addition to banking useful information for Finland they also dominated.
Tänak won all eight stages, with his biggest winning margins over Neuville – who was also afforded more time to acclimatize with new co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe – coming on the opening 4.2-mile Vastsemõisa test and the rally-ending 7.8-mile Liivakalda stage, where he was fastest by 6.9 seconds.
In total, the day’s roads used for competition came to 52.5 miles.
“We have quite a lot of loose snow on the first loop, and second loop obviously many small cars going at the front,” Tänak said at the end of the morning loop.
“It’s been making the lines pretty strange, but I guess in terms of testing it’s actually been quite good and to get the feeling to, let’s say to find a bit what to expect from the rally [Arctic Rally Finland], then I guess the conditions are really nice.”
It is Tänak’s fifth rally win with Hyundai since joining at the start of last year, and all five have come in his home country.
“It was a very demanding day,” Tänak added after taking victory. “All day we had some very snowy conditions, and I would say compared to what we did see during the Lapland test, actually in places the conditions were very similar. Some narrow and fast roads, and some bumpy and twisty sections.”
Neuville also found the rally challenging but rewarding as he continued to strengthen the partnership between himself and Wydaeghe.
“Basically we came here to test a little bit more, try different settings,” he said.
“Throughout the day we went progressively in a good direction, so at the end a better feeling in the car. But it was a tough event, conditions were changing a lot and it was really tricky in some parts. At the end, the job is done and I think it was good to prepare for the upcoming World Rally Championship event in North Finland.”
In addition to Tänak and Neuville in their Hyundai i20 Coupe WRCs were four other EMV1 class entrants to the Estonian Rally Championship season opener, with Georg Gross driving his Ford Fiesta WRC and three drivers in the Eastern European-built Proto versions of the Fiesta and the Audi S1.
Gross ran in third throughout but was initially kept on his toes by the top Rally2 runners, who were entered for Estonian championship points. Egon Kaur, another preparing for this month’s snow-based WRC round, outpaced Gross on SS2 but was shuffled down to fifth in the overall classification on the next stage by Movisport’s Nikolay Gryazin.
The Russian did not remain ahead of Kaur for long though as on the morning loop’s fourth and final stage he crashed his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 when coming off a jump, totally destroying the car’s front and rear end. Both he and co-driver Konstantin Aleksandrov were uninjured, but it spelled the end of their rally.
Kaur began the afternoon loop by outpacing Gross again, and stretched his class lead in Gryazin’s absence. He ended up finishing fourth overall and as EMV2 class victor by 23.9s over ALM Motorsport’s fellow Polo driver Georg Linnamäe in fifth.
Linnamäe will be competing for WRC2 honours in Finland in two weeks, while Kaur will be a contender in WRC3.