Andreas Mikkelsen snatched a dramatic last-gasp victory at PZM 73rd Rally Poland when long-time leader Ott Tänak was cruelly deprived of a maiden FIA World Rally Championship win. Tänak’s Ford Fiesta RS suffered a puncture in the penultimate rain-soaked speed test, wiping out his near-20sec lead and allowing Mikkelsen to claim a second career success. He became the sixth different winner in the last six rounds of a hugely unpredictable season. Victory sees Mikkelsen close the gap to Ogier in the race for the world championship.
Fist searing heat, then torrential rain – these were the two faces of the 2016 Rally Poland. With high temperatures, dust and loose gravel, the two opening days – Friday and Saturday – were a huge challenge, particularly for the first teams onto the route. In contrast, the competitors were greeted with a soggy route on Sunday morning, after overnight rain completely changed the character of the Rally Poland. In both cases, accurate pace notes were the key to success.
“We pushed so hard all weekend and with the weather as it was today we knew it was going to be difficult and we gave it everything. It was like a war in the penultimate stage and it was all about luck, who got out without problems, and we were the lucky ones.
“What a fantastic end to a crazy rally. We gave it everything we could, right from the word go. That was the only way we could compensate for having to take to the route so early. We knew that we could still get another chance to challenge for the win in today’s unpredictable conditions. When that chance came along, we took it. To win the rally is simply fantastic, as it is the first win together with my co-driver Anders Jæger. We are friends and have been through so much together. This is very special. However, I feel for Ott Tänak and Raigo Mõlder, who were denied victory by a puncture so close to the finish. I experienced similar in Sweden last year.”
Mikkelsen commiserated with the Estonian, having been on the receiving end of a similar situation when he spun out of the lead in Sweden in 2015 in the final test.
“I told Ott before the final stage that I felt so sorry for him. It would have been an adventure story but that’s the way rallying is. It’s very unpredictable,” said Mikkelsen, who climbed to second in the points.
Tänak had excelled on the sandy but lightning fast roads and was inconsolable at the finish. “There’s nothing I can say. All this and then you get nothing, it’s too hard,” he said.
Hayden Paddon completed the podium in a Hyundai i20, 2.3sec behind Tänak, to end a run of accidents in the previous two rounds. However, the New Zealander almost relaxed too much in the final stage, allowing team-mate Thierry Neuville to close to within 0.8sec.
Paddon said: “That was too close for comfort really! I struggled in the conditions this morning. The rain made the stages very slippery and I had no confidence at all. Our objective today was to secure third position rather than push for second, so we wanted to be relaxed. I think we probably eased off too much. Third is a great result, irrespective of how close it was – just 0.8 seconds! I am happy with the way the weekend has gone. We’ve had a good rally here in Poland and it’s allowed us to bounce back after two tough results. It’s fantastic to be on the podium again and I hope we can do the same in Finland. Congratulations to everyone in the team on a job well done.”
Jari-Matti Latvala finished fifth, a further 4.5sec back in a Volkswagen Polo R. Team-mate Sébastien Ogier was sixth, the championship leader admitting conditions were so bad that simply surviving the final day was his sole aim. Craig Breen was seventh in a DS 3, moving up after team-mate Stéphane Lefebvre smashed his car’s rear left suspension after spinning into a tree. The Frenchman eventually finished ninth. Mads Østberg overhauled both Lefebvre and team-mate Eric Camilli, who limped through the final stage with damaged suspension on his Fiesta RS after going off the road in the previous test. Camilli took 10th.
Dani Sordo retired after firstly slamming his i20 in chicane bales and then damaging his rear suspension against a tree.
Also of note Ogier’s team presented him with a push-car in Polo R WRC design for his three-week-old son Tim Kaiser-Ogier. “I hope he gets plenty of use out of it,” said daddy Ogier.
The Rally Poland is one of the fastest rallies on the WRC calendar and formed the start of the high-speed phase of the series, which continues with the the Neste Rally Finland which is based in Jyväskylä from the 28th to the 31st of July.
FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally Poland – Final Results
Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen, 2h 37m 34.4s
Ott Tänak/Raigo Mõlder (EST/EST), Ford, + 26.2s
Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (NZ/NZ), Hyundai, + 28.5s
Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (B/B), Hyundai, + 29.3s
Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen, + 33.8s
Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen, + 40.3s
Craig Breen/Scott Martin (IRL/GB),Citroën, + 2m 01.4s
Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene (N/N), Ford, + 3m 04.6s
Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (F/F), Ford, + 5m23.1s
Teemu Suninen/Mikku Markkula (FIN/FIN), Škoda, +5m 53.3s