Tänak leads Rally New Zealand by 0.2 seconds going into Saturday
Estonia's Ott Tänak (Hyundai) leads Rally New Zealand after seven stages, 0.2 seconds ahead of Britain's Elfyn Evans (Toyota) in second place. France's Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) finished the day in third.
After winning the traditional Thursday night shakedown, Tänak was fourth fastest (+5.8) in the opening stage on Friday morning. Somewhat surprisingly, it was Britain's Gus Greensmith (M-Sport Ford) who posted the fastest time, 0.4 seconds ahead of France's eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier (Toyota) and 1.6 seconds faster than teammate Craig Breen (Ireland, M-Sport Ford), whose performance was still strong enough to give him the overall lead.
Britain's Elfyn Evans (Toyota) took the second stage of the day, ahead of Tänak, Breen and championship leader Kalle Rovanperä (Finland, Toyota) in joint second (all +1.3). The result meant Breen stayed out in front overall, with Tänak in second (+3.3) and Elfyn Evans third (+5.5).
In the day's fourth stage, the Estonian finally gained victory, 0.7 seconds in front of second-placed Rovanperä. Evans took third (+0.8) and Ogier claimed fourth (+1.6), with Breen's time (+5.9), meaning Tänak also took the lead in the overall standings.
In the first stage after the break, it was veteran Ogier, who gave his rivals a run for their money, winning 8.4 seconds ahead of Evans in second. Tänak (+17.2) could only manage shared joint sixth with Rovanperä, dropping to third overall behind Ogier and Evans (+7.5). Meanwhile, it was bad news for Craig Breen, who was forced to retire after sliding off the track at the infamous McRae corner.
In the penultimate stage of the day, Rovanperä took the win, with the Finn benefitting greatly from the weather conditions. After completing the stage on a relatively dry track, Rovanperä's rivals who started behind him, were left to contend with mud and poor visibility. Tänak was quicker than before (+5.6), but remained in third overall behind Ogier and Evans.
Tänak saved his best performance for the final stage of the day, taking the win 1.2 seconds ahead of Evans, a result which was also good enough to put the Estonian top of the leaderboard, just 0.2 seconds in front of the Welshman. At the end of day one, Ogier sits in third (+6.7), with Rovenperä in fourth, just 7.2 seconds behind Tänak.
Rally New Zealand continues on Friday evening, at a little after 10.30 p.m. Estonian time.
Ahead of the eighth special stage, the overall leaderboard is as follows:
1. Tänak (Estonia, Hyundai) (1:36.48,6).
2. Evans (Great Britain, Toyota) (+0.2)
3. Ogier (France, Toyota) (+6.7)
4. Rovanperä (Finland, Toyota) (+7.2)
5. Greensmith (Great Britain, M-Sport Ford) (+43.8)
6. Neuville (Belgium, Hyundai) (+45,6)
7. Solberg (Sweden, Hyundai) (+1.28,3)
8. Katsuta (Japan, Toyota) (+1.42,0)
9. Bertelli (Italy, M-Sport Ford) (+5.41,4)
10. Breen (Ireland, M-Sport Ford) (+37:47.5)
Tänak is 54 points behind Rovanperä in the championship with three races, including New Zealand, to go.
Follow ERR News on Facebook and Twitter and never miss an update!
Editor: Michael Cole