Local hero Tanak wins Estonia's debut on world rally stage

Tartu (Estonia) (AFP) –


Local boy Ott Tanak maintained his lead throughout Sunday to win the Rally of Estonia's debut on the world championship calendar.

Tanak's Irish Hyundai team-mate Craig Breen was second with Frenchman Sebastien Ogier third in a Toyota.

"It's great of course." Tanak said. "We have some previous know-how, if you race at home you feel the support from the people around so, it's amazing - great feeling, first WRC Rally Estonia, the win is mine so I'm happy for sure."

The rally was the fourth round of the WRC, but the first since the coronavirus pandemic halted the season after Mexico in March.

The Estonian rally is a long-established event which had been due to make its debut on the elite circuit next season after running as a WRC promotional event in 2019, when Tanak won, but the coronavirus pandemic shook up the calendar.

The rally, staged on public forest roads, was run in accordance with health protocols with just 16,000 total spectators, controlled by means of "passes" giving them access to certain areas where the crowd was limited to 1,000 people.

Tanak took the lead on the second stage on Saturday morning, and quickly widened the gap before managing his advantage on Sunday.

Ogier, who has won six titles, retained the lead in the drivers' standings. Tanak, the reigning champion, moved up from fifth to third place, 13 points off the lead.

Finn Kalle Rovanpera (Toyota Yaris) gained five bonus points for winning the closing power stage. Tanak was third to grab three points.

The big loser was another Hyundai driver, the Belgian Thierry Neuville, who scored no points for the second rally in a row.

Neuville broke a wheel on Saturday, which meant he could not register a finish in the rally. He could have picked up points n the power stage but withdrew because of what his team described as "electrical glitches".

Sunday morning's second stage also caused damage, with Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota) rolling over and Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was making his elite debut in a Hyundai after winning WRC2 last year, suffered broken steering.

The season is scheduled to continue in Turkey on September 18-20, before moving to Italy, (October 8-11), and Belgium -- also a WRC debut -- on November 19-22.