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WRC Poland: Rovanpera extends lead as Mikkelsen suffers tyre issue

World rally champion Kalle Rovanpera extended his Rally Poland lead on Sunday morning, while drama for Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen shook up the leaderboard.

The last-minute replacement for injured Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier, Rovanpera opened up a comfortable 18.1s lead after Mikkelsen lost almost a minute when he knocked a tyre off the rim in stage 16.

This promoted Toyota’s Elfyn Evans to second, with M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux [+38.8s] third and Hyundai’s championship leader Thierry Neuville now fourth [+ 1m08.4s].

Mikkelsen was demoted to fifth [+1m21.6s], while WRC top-flight debutant Martins Sesks was sixth [+1m23.4s] ahead of M-Sport team-mate Gregoire Munster [+1m56.6s] and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta [+2m10.0s].

In the Super Sunday standings, the returning Ott Tanak, who retired his Hyundai on Friday and Saturday, topped the classification from Rovanpera, Fourmaux, Evans, Neuville, Sesks and Katsuta.

The opening test of the loop, Stage 16 [Gmina Mragowo, 20.80km], proved to be a particularly tricky, fast and narrow test.

Rally leader Rovanpera admitted he was concerned heading into Sunday’s stages, as these roads were the “worst” in terms of his limited preparation for the rally.

However, the Finn again showed his class to post the second fastest stage time which extended his rally lead to 17.4s.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Fabien Dufour / Hyundai Motorsport

Rovanpera’s time was 1.2s slower than the returning Tanak, who stunned the opposition with a blistering time despite facing the disadvantage of opening the road.

“I surprised myself by the time,” said Tanak who took an early lead in the Super Sunday standings.

The time earned plenty of plaudits from his rivals, including Rovanpera, while Fourmaux described the Estonian driver as being on “another level”.

Evans and Fourmaux were third and fourth fastest on the stage, but climbed to second and third in the overall standings after drama struck Mikkelsen when he clipped a bank.

The Norwegian’s impact knocked the right-rear tyre off the rim. It then delaminated, ripping the bodywork from the car and resulting in a time loss of 54.7s.

“There’s so many banks here and we touched one and it caught a tyre off the rim,” he said. “We tried to keep the pressure on Kalle and keep the pace.”

Mikkelsen wasn’t the only driver to encounter drama, as a left-rear tyre came off the rim of Munster’s Ford Puma.

WRC2 runner Josh McErlean exited fourth in class when he hit a bale at the final corner. It took out the right rear suspension from his Skoda, which crossed the flying finish backwards.

Andreas Mikkelsen, Torstein Eriksen, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Andreas Mikkelsen, Torstein Eriksen, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Neuville was 5.6s faster than Sesks, which resulted in the Belgian taking over fifth in the overall standings.

Tanak’s impressive start to Sunday continued with a victory on stage 17 [Mikolajki, 10.73km], which will host the rally-ending Power Stage.

Although unhappy with the man-made chicanes placed in the stage, he posted a time 0.7s faster than Fourmaux with Neuville a further two tenths back.

Rovanpera was frustrated by his run, which was 2.1s slower, but he was quicker than team-mate Evans by 0.7s.

Mikkelsen elected to back off after the tyre drama on the previous test, which dropped him behind Neuville in the overall standings.

Sami Pajari maintained the lead in the WRC2 standings, but his nearest rival is now Robert Virves after leapfrogging Oliver Solberg.

A repeat of the loop will conclude Rally Poland this afternoon.

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