Tanak fastest in New Zealand Rally opener

Tanak fastest in New Zealand Rally opener

TOPSHOT - A fan leans out for a better view of Estonia's Ott Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja in their I20 N Rally 1 Hybrid during shakedown of the Rally New Zealand, the 11th round of the FIA World Rally Championship, in Helensville on September 29, 2022. (Photo by John COWPLAND / AFP)

  • Rovanpera of Finland turns 22 on Saturday and can become the youngest winner of the drivers' championship if he wins the rally on Sunday or finishes with eight points more than Tanak
  • He starts the event 53 points ahead of the Estonian and could wrap up the title with the Spanish and Japanese rallies still to come

Estonian Ott Tanak took the first stage of the New Zealand Rally on Thursday, with overall championship leader Kalle Rovanpera coming in sixth as he bids to seal the title this weekend.

Rovanpera of Finland turns 22 on Saturday and can become the youngest winner of the drivers' championship if he wins the rally on Sunday or finishes with eight points more than Tanak.

He starts the event 53 points ahead of the Estonian and could wrap up the title with the Spanish and Japanese rallies still to come.

Tanak, however, clocked the fastest time of one minute and 45.8 seconds around the short first stage in Auckland.

"My head was spinning and I had no idea where the road was going, it was not so fun," said Tanak after the 1.4-kilometre-long (0.87-mile) stage, which demanded drivers pull a series of tight turns.

Rovanpera finished 2.6 seconds back in the first of the weekend's 17 stages, with 2021 overall champion Sebastien Ogier eighth.

"It was a bad run-through for me," Rovanpera said.

"The pressure is always there, but hopefully this weekend we can try to do a good job."

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Kalle Rovanpera Ott Tanak New Zealand Rally

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