Andreas Mikkelsen leads Rally Poland as Rally1 debutant Martins Sesks shines

Andreas Mikkelsen leads Rally Poland as Rally1 debutant Martins Sesks shines

Andreas Mikkelsen dominated Friday’s stages at Rally Poland ahead of Rally1 debutant Martins Sesks while Ott Tanak suffered an early retirement.

Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen took the lead of Rally Poland on Friday morning’s first stage and relentlessly built a 7.4 second lead over the morning loop ahead of a sensational Martins Sesks on his Rally1 debut in a non-hybrid M-Sport Ford Puma.

Tanak had been tipped among the favourites to win on Poland’s high-speed gravel roads, but his victory hopes came to a sudden halt on stage two. The Hyundai driver had started Friday with a one second lead over team-mate Thierry Neuville after winning Thursday night’s super special.

However, Tanak was forced to pull off the road 18.3km into the test with damage to the front of his i20 N. The Estonian hit a deer which ripped the radiator out of the car but fortunately escaped the incident unhurt.

Mikkelsen won stages two and four while Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville recorded a stage win on stage three – but only because the stage was canceled after three cars had passed through due to spectator control problems.

“It has been a good day at Rally Poland,” Mikkelsen said. “It is a shame we couldn’t do more stages, but all in all a positive day.

“I was far too cautious on the long stage after mid-day service: I am used to the Rally2 cars where you have to be really careful in the ruts, but with these tyres you can just throw the car in.

“It’s one of the learnings I can take advantage of moving forward; I love this event, and I want to bring a fight to the guys tomorrow.

“It will be a proper battle, with no road cleaning and the top guys starting in front of me, so a completely different day to today.”

Sesks was shocked to find out after Friday morning’s opening stage he’d gone 0.3s faster but the Olecko stage was more representative of his hardware deficit, his car running without the 135bhp hybrid system.

The leading M-Sport Ford – which is not registered for manufacturers’ points – is now 7.4s adrift of the rally lead with 4.5s in hand to Elfyn Evans behind.

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Evans has picked up the mantle of lead Toyota from team-mate Kalle Rovanpera, taking third position on Olecko as the reigning world champion struggled with his lack of preparation.

Sebastien Ogier’s recce accident meant Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen did not study any videos until arriving in Poland, leaving him frustrated at playing catchup.

Another superb drive came from M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux and Alex Coria, the young Frenchman setting times well within reach of the top runners. He won stage seven but the stage was cancelled (as was stage three earlier) due to errant spectators in the stage and competitors were awarded nominal times.

His teammate Gregoire Munster came in sixth, separated by only 0.8s after a big push from the driver on Olecko. The stage’s famous jump came close to ending Munster’s rally, as he went over it without lifting but off-line and landed off the road, collecting it up and continuing on his way.

However, that heavy impact was felt fully in the cockpit.

“We were thinking to take it flat and we did, but the landing was quite harsh for Louis [Louka, co-driver], so he had to catch his breath,” he said.

“We were laughing because it happened too Sebastien Loeb with Daniel Elena and when it happened he said, on attack, we push, so we were joking for half the stage.”

Neuville’s road sweeping duties were compounded by a technical issue, with his handbrake locking all four wheels rather than only the rears. That caused a couple of overshoots on Olecko, at one point causing him to miss an intersection entirely.

Takamoto Katsuta has fallen to last place of the Rally1 crews in eighth, still expressing a lack of confidence to push.

Sami Pajari leads WRC2 by 4.7s, with local hero Kajetan Kajetanowicz taking second place after Olecko after recording a stage win in front of his home fans.

Meanwhile, Toksport pairing Oliver Solberg and Gus Greensmith have fallen away from the podium places and were both frustrated for differing reasons.

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