Japanese manufacturer closing on Ford after Tanak’s win in Argentina, but Hyundai leads and Ogier remains top driver. Toyota has become the third manufacturer to win in five rounds of this year’s World Rally Championship.
Estonian Ott Tanak, in his first season driving a Yaris after departing the M-Sport Ford team, won 10 of the 18 stages of the weekend’s Rally Argentina, taking victory 37.7 seconds ahead of the Hyundai i20 of Belgian Thierry Neuville.
Argentina remains the only round of the WRC that France’s five-time world champion Sebastien Ogier hasn’t won.
Particularly cautious in fog on the middle leg this time, Ogier finished fourth in his Ford Fiesta – and second to Neuville on the final Power Stage – with a third Hyundai, driven by Norwegian Andreas Mikkelsen, four seconds behind him in fifth.
Ogier, winner of the Monte Carlo Rally and in Mexico and on the French island of Corsica this year, leads the drivers’ championship, but Neuville, victor in Sweden, has narrowed the gap to 10 points (100-90), while Tanak is third on 72.
However, Hyundai heads the manufacturers’ standings with 144 points to Ford’s 129 while Toyota is now on 124. Citroen, the other major participating manufacturer, has 93 points.
Northern Irishman Kris Meeke could do no better than seventh in Argentina, his C3 finishing almost 3½ minutes behind the victorious Yaris and almost 20 seconds behind the Fiesta of Welshman Elfyn Evans, who had been a narrow runner-up to Neuville last year.
Irishman Craig Breen rolled his C3 out of sixth on Saturday.
Tanak’s victory was his third in the WRC, after two last year with M-Sport, but he had looked down and out after damaging the Toyota’s steering when he hit a rock on the opening stage.
Then on the second leg a damaged front right shock absorber and power steering problems forced him to ease off.
“That was really hard. The oil leaked out of the damper and I lost the use of the power steering before it came back,” he said.
But ultimately his first success with Toyota – and the manufacturer’s first since the middle of last year – was “a special one”.
“I had a great feeling with the car,” Tanak said.
“It’s a massive boost for a driver if you have the confidence. I can’t say it was easy. I was pushing really hard and living on the edge on Friday and Saturday.”
The next WRC round is in Portugal on May 17-20.