Estonian heads Mikkelsen and Paddon after opening leg.
Ott Tänak led PZM 73rd Rally Poland on Friday night after outgunning Andreas Mikkelsen and Hayden Paddon in an exciting fight over super-fast sandy roads in the north of the country.
It is exactly 12 months since the Estonian last led a WRC round here and the first time that a driver using DMACK tyres has topped the standings in a championship round.
Tänak, driving a Ford Fiesta RS, headed Mikkelsen’s Volkswagen Polo R by 4.2sec after 10 speed tests covering 121.92km. Paddon was a further 6.0sec behind in a Hyundai i20.
Tänak relegated Thierry Neuville, who led after last night’s curtain-raising test, in this morning’s opening special stage. Mikkelsen then moved ahead for five stages before three consecutive wins enabled Tänak to regain the initiative. He ended the day with five victories.
“It’s been a great day, especially this afternoon when I found a great rhythm,” said Tänak. “The stages have been so fast, and some were quite rough, but the ‘button’ was in. If you want to win there is no other way.”
Mikkelsen was never able to push his advantage above 3.6sec. When the soft roads became heavily rutted this afternoon as they were driven for a second time, he was unhappy with his car’s handling and admitted he could do no more to fend off Tänak.
Paddon won three stages although the Kiwi was never comfortable with his car. He changed the set-up this afternoon to try to improve the balance, but the ride-height was too low for the deep ruts.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was fourth, 16.3sec off the lead in his Polo R. The Frenchman hoped the forecast thunderstorms would arrive to offset the disadvantage of opening the roads in loose conditions, but the day stayed dry with temperatures rising to 27°C.
Thierry Neuville was fifth, despite dropping two wheels into a field, with a dispirited Jari-Matti Latvala completing the top six. The Finn never found a rhythm, ending 2.8sec ahead of Stéphane Lefebvre with DS 3 team-mate Craig Breen a further 1.7sec behind after the trio traded places all day.
Eric Camilli and Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard in Fiesta RS cars. Østberg was disappointed with his pace after a strong showing earlier this month in Italy and lost a handful of seconds after going off the road.
Henning Solberg suffered intercom problems all day while Dani Sordo’s run of four consecutive fourth place finishes is in jeopardy after ending 11th.
Saturday is the longest of the rally with 124.58km of competition. Drivers face two loops of stages near the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, before a third and final run through the Mikolajki super special stage.