Ott Tänak finished second at the end of the first full day of competition at the Central European Rally, the penultimate round of the 2023 WRC season.
The rally as its name would imply takes place across more than one country – Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic in fact – the first WRC event to do so. This is the first time the rally has been run, and represents the first asphalt stage since April.
Tänak, who moves to Hyundai for 2024, had placed third in Wednesday's shake-down test run near Prague, and had this to say after the experience: "At the start of the rally, the roads in the Czech Republic are quite tough, so it will also be a long day. It seems like it won't be easy."
Nonetheless, he then went on to guide the M-Sport Ford Puma to a stage one proper win Thursday afternoon with a time of 1.51.2 over the 2.55km Velka Chuchle route. Darkness fell ahead of stage two, which started at 7.05 p.m. Estonian time, and was won by Thierry Neuville (Belgium), whom Tänak will be rejoining at Hyundai next year.
SSS1 Velka Chuchle (2,55 km):— Ott Tänak (@OttTanak) October 26, 2023
"Today, on these super special stages, the tyres won't make much difference. They are quite mixed."
1⃣ TÄNAK 1:51.2
2⃣ Ogier +0.7
3⃣ Neuville +1.0
4⃣ Lappi +1.6
5⃣ Suninen +2.4#WRC #CERWRC #goOtt pic.twitter.com/f1fP7n05VX
Tänaks's stage two time of 4:16.9 was 2.2 seconds slower than Neuville's, and the gap between the two going into Friday's stages is 1.2 seconds in the Belgian's favor.
Eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier (France, Toyota) lies in third place, while reigning champion and current championship leader Kalle Rovanperäa (Finland, Toyota), looking to wrap up the title this weekend with one race to spare, is fourth.
The only driver who can catch Rovanperä is his teammate, Elfyn Evans (Wales), who will have some work to do lying in eight place after two stages and ehading into day three.
One other Estonian, Georg Linnamäe (Hyundai), is competing in the Central European Rally, in the second-tier WRC2 category. Linnamäe lies in tenth place at present.
The race continues Friday from 10.50 a.m. Estonian time, with a 13.66km stage near Vlachovo Brez, and ends with a 23.43km stage near Šumavske Hoštice, starting just before 6 p.m.
Saturday's stages move over the border to Austria. The final stages will be held in Bavaria on Sunday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte