Ott Tänak won the powerstage dress rehearsal around Jack’s Ridge, as Kalle Rovanperä remains in the lead of Rally New Zealand and on course to claim the World Rally Championship title.
Jack’s Ridge, which will double up as the powerstage later on, is a manmade arena designed with the spectator in mind – littered with jumps, sweeping corners and hairpins.
Craig Breen was the first driver to experience it and hadn’t been expecting much from the recce, but it’s fair to say looks were deceiving.
“I don’t know who Jack is, but I’d say his house will be worth a few pounds after the weekend!” Breen said.
“It didn’t look anything like that on the recce to be honest with you, I didn’t think it would be that enjoyable but it actually really, really is. It was really good, fair play.”
Tänak was on a mission through the arena stage, beating next-fastest Rovanperä by 1.7 seconds. But it could’ve all gone wrong for the third-placed driver as he skirted dangerously wide upon landing after a jump.
“In places it was far too brave, in one place we were very close to having a proper crash,” he said. So it was proper excitement.”
It would serve Tänak well to go that quickly on the second pass later in the afternoon too, as the powerstage is set to decide whether Rovanperä wins the world title this weekend or not.
However if both drivers were to stay first and third overall and the result of the powerstage mirrored the first pass, Rovanperä would be champion.
“It was not a push run, we just checked out the stage,” Rovanperä said.
As a member of the Solberg clan, entertaining is in Oliver Solberg’s genes – but even he wasn’t expecting to take off quite as much as he did over one crest on SS15.
The jump was so big that the visor on Solberg’s helmet flicked down upon landing, and he let out an expletive in surprise as to how high his Hyundai soared.
“I’ve never jumped so high in my life!” he said at stage-end. “BLOODY hell, that was cool.”
Solberg is on course for his second top five in as many WRC events, Xth fastest on the stage.
Team-mate Thierry Neuville is one spot ahead in fourth and described his first attempt at Jack’s Ridge as a “clean recce for the powerstage” – Neuville eying up “at least some extra points” from New Zealand.