Ott Tanak has made it three consecutive World Rally Championship wins in 2018 with an unexpected victory at Rally Turkey while title-rivals Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier encountered misfortune.
Tanak finished the event +22.3 seconds ahead of second-placed Toyota team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, making Toyota the new manufacturers’ championship leader and Tanak’s 27 points allowed him to overhaul Ogier to go into second in the drivers’ standings.
During Friday Tanak was running as low as ninth but he was able to capitalise on the struggles of others on this new and exceedingly tough event to become the fifth different rally leader.
It was Andreas Mikkelsen who had the early advantage, taking the stage win on Thursday’s superspecial stage, before strong running on the extremely dusty Cetibeli stage briefly catapulted Craig Breen into the lead.
Mikkelsen had the lead back by Friday lunchtime, but a surge in pace from Neuville and Ogier slotted the warring duo into the lead.
However Saturday proved to be tougher still on the WRC machinery as championship leader Neuville suffered a suspension mount failure that catapulted i20 parts across the stage and led to his retirement for the day.
This made Ogier rally leader number four, although for the shortest time as on the very next stage he incurred a broken wishbone which made him six minutes late to stage nine as he hurried to repair it.
Despite the one-minute time penalty for his tardiness Ogier dropped only to fourth after immediately winning the Icmeier stage.
The drama continued for Ogier when later in the afternoon a misheard pacenote caused him to slide off the road and become beached, forcing his retirement from the day.
With both his title-rivals retired and Mikkelsen’s Hyundai stalling in slow-speed corners, Tanak was left as rally leader, a position he held on to for the remainder of the event.
The trick for success appeared to be a calm and cautious approach for Latvala in second and Hayden Paddon who had his best finish of the season in third despite it being an event that does not suit his driving style.
Fourth went to M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen, and Mikkelsen limped home with only rear-wheel drive in fifth.
It was the returning Henning Solberg who took sixth, and it could have been WRC2 victory if his Skoda had been registered for the championship.
Instead it went to seventh-placed Jan Kopecky despite a broken drive shaft, with fellow WRC2 runners Simone Tempestini and Chris Ingram behind.
Ogier recovered to 10thposition on the final day of the rally, helped by M-Sport team-mate Elfyn Evans who deliberately incurred penalties to drop behind the Frenchman.
Neuville took with the maximum five points from the powerstage after trundling around the rest of Sunday’s stages to reserve himself for the final push.
Ogier and Tanak came away with four and three powerstage points respectively, again each bolstering their title hopes.
Many cars lost in their battle with the difficult Turkish stages, with both Evans and Mads Ostberg retiring with damaged suspension on Friday alone.
Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi span on the loose gravel and became stuck perilously on the edge of the cliff, just minutes before Breen struggled through the stage with smoke in the cockpit, which turned into an inferno as he worked to fix the problem at stage end.