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Stage report
WRC Rally Poland

WRC Poland: Mikkelsen extends lead as debutant Sesks stars

Impressive World Rally Championship Rally1 debut for M-Sport Ford driver Sesks continues in non-hybrid Puma, as Hyundai's third car leads with Mikkelsen after Poland's Friday morning loop

Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen heads into Friday afternoon with the Rally Poland lead from Martins Sesks, who stunned on his World Rally Championship Rally1 debut.

Mikkelsen impressed throughout the morning to win two of the three stages to leap into a 7.4s lead from Sesks, who is driving a non-hybrid powered Ford Puma Rally1 car.

Elfyn Evans limited the damage of starting high in the road order to lead Toyota’s charge in third [+11.9s] ahead of Sebastien Ogier’s replacement Kalle Rovanpera [+14.2s], with M-Sport’s Adrien Foumaux in fifth [+15.1s].

M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster [+15.9s], championship leader Thierry Neuville [+32.2s] and Takamoto Katsuta [+38.0s] rounded out the Rally1 field after Ott Tanak’s retirement.

The overnight leaderboard was turned on its head after the day’s opening stage two [Stanczyki, 29.40km] when leader and rally favourite Tanak came to a sudden halt.

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 after hitting a deer. Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja escaped unscathed following the crash.

This handed his team-mate Mikkelsen the rally lead, as the Norwegian claimed his first stage win since 2019 Wales Rally GB on his third outing of the season in the third i20 N. Mikkelsen was 0.3s faster than Sesks.

Martins Sesks, Renars Francis, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Martins Sesks, Renars Francis, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Reigning world champion Rovanpera climbed from seventh to third overall with the third fastest time in the stage. The Toyota driver, who received a last-minute call up to replace Ogier following the Frenchman's road traffic accident while gathering pacenotes, was frustrated by not being able to push due to his rushed preparation for an event that was not originally part of his limited schedule of events this year.

M-Sport’s Fourmaux moved to fourth, which he shared with Evans, 8.0s adrift of Mikkelsen.

Organisers were forced to cancel stage three [Wieliczki, 12.90km] for spectator safety reasons. The decision arrived after Neuville, Evans, Fourmaux and Katsuta had completed their passes through the test.

With the road cleaning effect not as bad, Neuville clocked the fastest time of the quartet, 0.5s faster than Evans, with Fourmaux 0.7s adrift and Katsuta 3.5s back after a lucky escape when he briefly ran off the road.

Notional times were awarded to those unable to pass through the stage. It meant Mikkelsen kept his 2.2s lead over Sesks, while Evans moved ahead of Rovnapera into third.

Road cleaning was much more of factor in the morning’s final test [Olecko, 13.20km], which was reflected in the times.

Mikkelsen, starting seventh on the road, made the most of the road conditions which were still slippery when he passed through. He won a stage which was new for all the crews by 3.1s from Munster, who delivered a committed run that included a wild moment over a jump. The subsequent landing briefly winded co-driver Louis Louka.

“We had a good stage; we’re trying to do the best we can,” said Mikkelsen. “The car is really nice to drive, still quite slippery on the surface, and you still have to take a bit of care.”

Evans was a second further back, but his effort was impressive given he was second in the road order. Road sweeper Neuville dropped 11.7s after suffering a handbrake issue, adding further woe to the disadvantage of opening the road.

Meanwhile the eye-catching start to Sesks' Rally1 debut continued as the Latvian clocked the fourth best time to remain second overall.

Rovanpera was 1.1s slower than Sesks, but maintained fourth position while clearly affected by his rushed preparation.

“Not so easy,” commented Rovanpera. “It’s quite funny; last night I was watching an [on-board] video on the laptop and I fell asleep on the laptop. With this road position, we should be 10 seconds faster.”

Sami Pajari ended the morning leading the WRC2 class from local hero Kajetan Kajetanowicz by 4.1s, while title contenders Oliver Solberg and Gus Greensmith dropped to seventh and eighth in class respectively after struggles.

Crews will repeat the stages this afternoon, before ending the day with a blast around the Mikolajki Arena super special.

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