Tänak takes Croatia lead with one stage to go

Wet weather on the penultimate stage made tire choice crucial, and long-time leader Rovanperä got caught out

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Ott Tänak has sensationally taken the lead of Croatia Rally on the penultimate stage, as rain caused havoc on the Trakošćan – Vrbno test.

The water well and truly descended on SS19, presenting some of the most difficult stretches of the event, but Tänak starred to win by 19.8 seconds.

The Hyundai driver gambled on tire strategy this morning, picking tires that were more suited for wet conditions, and although it looked like the wrong decision on Sunday’s opening two stages, it paid dividends on SS19, with Tänak beating long-time rally leader Kalle Rovanperä by 49.6s.

It means that Tänak will go into the powerstage as the new leader, but the two are separated by just 1.4s.

And heading into the final test, Zagorska Sela – Kumrovec, Rovanperä is in a pessimistic mood.

“I didn’t know where this weather came from,” he said.

Emil Lindholm

“We had no idea there was going to be rain, and we can not match him with these tyres.

“The hard is not working at all and there is not much more we can do.”

But the drama didn’t stop there because the stage began to dry out after the Rally1 cars completed the stage, meaning WRC2 driver Emil Lindholm went second fastest overall, with Chris Ingram third quickest.

Thierry Neuville was fourth fastest on Trakošćan – Vrbno, extending his advantage in third place over Craig Breen to 1m42.4s, after Breen struggled.

Just behind Neuville was WRC2 leader Yohan Rossel, who arguably put in one of the greatest stage times of his career in the wet.

Running on tires that suited the conditions perfectly, Rossel ended up fifth fastest, 22.6s slower than Tänak’s effort to increase his category lead to 57.4s.

Nikolay Gryazin

Nikolay Gryazin had been running second in class, but he struggled compared to his rivals on SS19, and particularly Kajetan Kajetanowicz who has come alive on Sunday.

Kajetanowicz was 3s slower than Rossel’s effort and he now moves up to second in WRC2 with Lindholm also moving up a position after his great effort to demote Gryazin to fourth.

The remaining Rally1 drivers took a cautious approach to the sodden stage, determined to make it round so they can fight for points on the powerstage.

Elfyn Evans was over a minute-and-a-half off the pace, while Breen was almost two minutes off Tänak’s time and goes into the final stage of the rally – which is dry – with 1m42.4s to find if he is going to grab the final podium position from Neuville.

Robert Virves goes into the final stage on course for WRC3 victory, despite starting the day 49.1s behind Sami Pajari. A crash forced long-time leader Pajari out on SS18, and Virves now has a half-minute advantage over Lauri Joona.

Their category rival William Creighton was a stunning 12th fastest on SS19, 37.9s slower than Tänak and 21.6s off Lindholm in his Ford Fiesta Rally3.

SS19 results

1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 8m15.5s
2 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Škoda) +16.3s
3 Chris Ingram/Craig Drew (Škoda) +18.5s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +19.8s
5 Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroën) +22.6s
6 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Škoda) +25.6s
7 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Volkswagen) +28.5s
8 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +29.8s
9 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (M-Sport Ford) +30.9s
10 Sean Johnston/Alex Kihurani (Citroën) +35.0s

Leading positions after SS19

1 Tänak/Järveoja (Hyundai) 2h39m18.3s
2 Rovanperä/Halttunen (Toyota) +1.4s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m04.1s
4 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +2m46.5s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +3m25.5s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +7m27.1s
7 Rossel/Sarreaud (Citroën) +9m26.4s
8 Kajetanowicz/Szczepaniak (Škoda) +10m23.8s
9 Lindholm/Hämäläinen (Škoda) +10m47.5s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Škoda) +10m56.4s