WRC returns with Tanak looking for home win in Estonia
Almost six months after the Rally of Mexico, the World Rally Championship emerges from behind the coronavirus mask on Friday with the start of the first ever Rally of Estonia.
Just three rounds of the championship had been staged before the virus prompted a shutdown of the season, at which point six-time champion Sebastien Ogier was leading the standings.
World champion Ott Tanak crashed out in the season opener at Monte Carlo but second places in Sweden and Mexico left him 24 points behind the Frenchman.
Tanak now has just four races in this shortened, rearranged season to try and reclaim his crown.
This weekend's rally in his home patch of Estonia will be followed by races in Turkey (September 18-20), Sardinia (October 8-11) and Belgium (November 19-22), further alterations to the calendar notwithstanding.
Hyundai driver Tanak dominated last month's non-WRC Louna-Eesti Rally in southern Estonia which was used as a warm-up by numerous top drivers including the leading five in the championship.
He knows he has to capitalise on home knowledge in this weekend's race to stay with the Toyotas of Ogier, Elfyn Evans and 19-year-old Finn Kalle Rovanpera as well as Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville, all of whom are above him in the standings.
"The target is very easy," Tanak told the official WRC website.
"We don't know how long the season will be but, for sure, we have to take the maximum from every event now.
"It (Estonia) will be a short sprint so there is no way to hold back any more."
Any fears that Tanak may have been feeling the pressure from being the local hero at his country's first ever WRC rally appear to be ill-founded.
"I'm completely OK," he told rally website Dirtfish. "No media. No stress. No nothing."
Ogier heads into the race as the man in charge after finishing second and fourth in Monte Carlo and Sweden before winning in Mexico.
He leads teammate Evans, who walked away from a shocking crash in the Louna-Eesti Rally, by eight points and knows that the pressure is on the Hyundais of Neuville and Tanak.
"He (Ogier) don't have to win. He needs points, he needs to be safe," Toyota team boss Tommi Makinen told the WRC.
"Sure he goes fast and he had a pretty good test and he is the clever guy. He knows what he needs to do."
© 2020 AFP