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Ott Tänak lived up to his billing as pre-event favourite to lead the FIA World Rally Championship’s restart event at Rally Estonia on Saturday night. Driving on home roads, Tänak shrugged aside the series’ six-month Covid-19 lay-off to head Estonia’s first world rally by 11.7sec. On a superb day for his Hyundai Motorsport squad, team-mate Craig Breen held second in an identical i20 World Rally Car. Estonia became the 33rd country to stage a championship round as the series reached a landmark 600th event since it began in 1973. Tänak celebrated by taking an iron grip on the blisteringly fast sandy roads on which he developed his career.

Craig Breen pushed Tanak hard and is in second place for Hyundai.

Teenager Kalle Rovanperä grabbed the lead in this morning’s opening speed test. Tänak was only fourth after being hampered by a soft tyre, but charged to the front on the next stage and built a 6.8sec mid-leg margin over Breen. The repeated roads were rougher this afternoon, but Tänak doubled his lead before throttling back, content to have won three of today’s 10 stages. “This afternoon, especially, the middle stages were really rough,” he said. “I know I can’t risk anything, I need to come through if I want to fight for the championship. It’s been a demanding and tricky day, so high-speed and rough.”

Kalle Rovanpera lost time on stage three when a rear tyre delaminated.

Breen’s part-time programme brings less chance to impress, but the Irishman laid claim to being driver of the day. He won two stages and was second on three more. “You feel a super-hero on some of these stages, they are some of the fastest I’ve driven,” he said. Hyundai was on course for a clean sweep of the top three as Thierry Neuville was on Breen’s heels. But his i20 bounced out of a rut, swiped a bank and smashed the rear right suspension, leaving the Belgian stranded. Championship leader Sébastien Ogier replaced Neuville in third. The Frenchman, driving a Toyota Yaris, won two stages but was hindered by two tyres delaminating and a final test stall. Ogier trailed Breen by 17.0sec and headed team-mate Rovanperä by 6.2sec. The young Finn’s early lead vanished with a puncture which relegated him to eighth, but he recovered to snatch fourth from fellow Yaris driver Elfyn Evans in the final stage.

Strict COVID-19 rules are being enforced on the WRC's return in Estonia.

Evans was third initially but struggled to retain his rhythm and tyre troubles saw him slide back to fifth. The Welshman had 25.1sec in hand over team-mate Takamoto Katsuta, the Japanese youngster belying his lack of experience to stay on course for a career-best sixth. Sunday’s final leg follows a similar format, with two identical loops of three stages south of Tartu adding up to 84.94km. The rally ends at the Kambja Wolf Power Stage, which features bonus points to the fastest five drivers. *Note: Kalle Rovanpera was later penalised one minute for a breach of parc ferme rules. Co-driver Jonne Halttunen removed the radiator blanking plate from the front of the pair’s Toyota Yaris WRC inside a time control, which is not allowed.

Rally Estonia leaderboard after SS11*

1 RC1 Ott Tanak, M.Jarveoja Hyundai 1h15m08.4s
2 RC1 Craig Breen, P.Nagle Hyundai 11.7s
3 RC1 Sebastien Ogier, J.Ingrassia Toyota 28.7s
4 RC1 Kalle Rovanpera, J.Halttunen Toyota 34.9s
5 RC1 Elfyn Evans, S.Martin Toyota 36.8s
6 RC1 Takamoto Katsuta, D.Barritt Toyota 1m01.9s
7 RC1 Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm Ford 1m41.7s
8 RC1 Teemu Suninen, J.Lehtinen Ford 1m50.9s
9 RC1 Pierre-Louis Loubet, V.Landais Hyundai 2m15.2s
10 RC1 Gus Greensmith, E.Edmondson Ford 3m03.1s
11 RC2 Oliver Solberg, A.Johnston Volkswagen 5m02.9s
12 RC2 Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen Citroen 5m26.4s
13 RC2 Kajetan Kajetanowicz, M.Szczepaniak Skoda 5m31.8s
14 RC2 Jari Huttunen, M.Lukka Hyundai 5m46.4s
15 RC2 Nikolay Gryazin, K.Aleksandrov Hyundai 6m04.2s
16 RC2 Adrien Fourmaux, R.Jamoul Ford 6m11.9s
17 RC2 Marco Bulacia Wilkinson, M.Der Ohannesian Citroen 6m23.6s
18 RC2 Pontus Tidemand, P.Barth Skoda 6m24.8s
19 RC2 Eyvind Brynildsen, I.Minor Skoda 6m54.9s
20 RC2 Nicolas Ciamin, Y.Roche Citroen 7m05.3s
21 RC2 Yohan Rossel, B.Fulcrand Citroen 7m51.6s
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