Kalle Rovanperä headed the timesheets after the first early morning gravel speed test but a puncture slowed the teenager. Tänak capitalised to lead the FIA World Rally Championship’s post-lockdown restart event on his home roads by 6.8sec in a Hyundai i20.
An impressive Craig Breen held second with Thierry Neuville completing a perfect morning for the Korean manufacturer by holding third, a further 4.3sec behind.
Tänak’s local knowledge helped him win two of the five super-fast speed tests covering 73.59km, but his pace was balanced with caution after puncturing in the opening stage. With only one spare wheel onboard, he could not afford another.
I had to manage it through the remaining stages. I was trying to be very careful to make sure we got back here. It has been a tricky morning because the grip has been changing quite often. It’s challenging and you need to be very focused,” he explained.
Breen rattled off three consecutive second fastest times and the Irishman was thrilled to be on Tänak’s heels. “It’s incredible, everything just clicked and I settled into a nice rhythm. You feel a super-hero on some of these stages, they are some of the fastest I’ve driven,” he said.
Neuville won the final stage of the morning but was realistic about his chances of matching Tänak on home ground, admitting he lacked confidence in the faster sections.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was best of the rest in fourth. The Frenchman won one stage and was 15.5sec from the lead as competitors returned to the mid-leg service in Tartu. His Toyota Yaris was a match for the Hyundais on the fast roads but lost out in the more technical sections.
He had 7.6sec in hand over team-mate Elfyn Evans. The Welshman was third initially but slid down the order as he struggled to maintain his rhythm.
Team-mate Rovanperä won the opening stage to snatch the lead after last night’s short curtain-raising test, but a rear right puncture in the next stage cost the Finn almost 30sec.
He plunged to eighth but despite driving with a damaged wheel arch which affected his car’s aerodynamics, he recovered to sixth, 9.2sec behind Evans.
Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta was seventh after a strong morning for the inexperienced youngster as Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Yaris cars, which are built in Estonia, filled fourth to seventh.
M-Sport Ford duo Esapekka Lappi were eighth and ninth in Fiestas. Lappi made changes to his car’s set-up in a bid to find more grip but the Finn lost a handful of seconds after overshooting a hairpin in the final stage.
World Rally Car debutant Pierre-Louis Loubet rounded off the top 10 in another i20. The Corsican lost time after missing the same junction as Lappi.
The running order of the leading drivers will be reversed before the stages are repeated this afternoon.