Ott Tänak insists his early Rally Estonia pace is not as impressive as it looks, despite being fastest on all four stages of the event so far.
Tänak was hit with a five-minute penalty before the rally had even got under way after M-Sport was forced to change the engine in his car after just a single run through shakedown.
That effectively ruled Tänak out of contention for any strong finish, let alone being able to repeat his 2020 success on his home round of the World Rally Championship.
Tänak gave the home fans something to smile about by winning Thursday night’s superspecial stage and all three of Friday morning’s tests. Without his penalty, he would be the leader of the rally by 10 seconds over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.
But Tänak reckons his speed through the stages has not been an accurate reflection of the underlying pace of his M-Sport Puma.
He pointed towards championship leader Kalle Rovanperä lying second overall in his Toyota GR Yaris, 3.9s down on Neuville and just 13.9s slower through the stages than Tänak – despite Rovanperä running first on the road, compared with Tänak’s start position of third.
“I would say it doesn’t really show our pure performance for the moment,” Tänak told DirtFish. “It’s quite clear that we are not really on the level with Toyota and Hyundai. I would say the other guys, they want to finish the rally as well and they want to win the rally.
“But for us, we’ve been happy at end of every stage that we finished because there’s been quite some moments. It’s been not so clean run on that pace.”
When DirtFish’s Colin Clark suggested that Friday morning pace, while everyone is pushing, could provide an accurate barometer, especially with Tänak starting only two cars behind Rovanperä, Tänak responded: “Definitely not. The two Toyotas are opening the road and so on.
“I would say our base, it’s definitely helping because we did a small [warm-up] rally here before, you know, we are really in the rhythm for this. The other guys are definitely picking up the pace, and definitely nobody’s going 110% in the first stage in the rally.”
Tänak added that the speed he has shown in Estonia did not increase his confidence for the next round of the WRC, Rally Finland. Although that is another high-speed rally, it features some different stage characteristics than Estonia.
“I can’t say I’m really feeling confident in the car,” he said. “This rally, because it’s so forgiving, you know, everybody can go a bit wide and you don’t need to be so precise, and it’s quite easy . Let’s say it’s definitely less risk to take risks here.
“Finland is, we know, very different. It’s still high-speed, it’s quite technical at the same time but there is no chance to go wide anywhere so it’s quite a different rally.”
Rally leader Neuville meanwhile is happy with his morning run, considering he hasn’t traditionally perfomed well on high-speed events.
But he is aware of the threat Rovanperä poses on the second pass.
“We need to keep watching out on Kalle who is going to be really fast this afternoon again and pushing hard,” Neuville told DirtFish.
“He’s also not got a lot to lose so he’s definitely going for it, and for us it’s going to try and increase a little bit the rhythm, clean pace through the stages and the fight is on.”