The Hyundai driver had been imperious for the majority of Friday, winning five of the eight stages to build up a 19.4s lead over team-mate Dani Sordo, with Toyota’s Sebastian Ogier 36.2s back in third.
However, the Estonian suffered a Pirelli tyre delamination towards the end of the second run through the 14.97km Erula-Tula stage. Tanak finished 5.6s behind team-mates Sordo and Thierry Neuville, who posted identical times to top the stage.
The Estonian admitted it was lucky the tyre drama struck on a slow section of the stage, revealing that these issues are always “a bit scary” to manage.
“Apart from the last stage with the tyre issues I would say the rest has been quite good,” said Tanak. “Basically I knew what happened we have had it recently. It is a bit of a lottery with this delamination. I was quite lucky that the end of the stage was so slow so I could carry it to the finish but for sure it is always a bit scary when these things happen.”
Tyre scare aside, Tanak produced a faultless drive to warrant high praise from Hyundai boss Andrea Adamo.
“Clearly, it has been a tricky day, but we know very well that Sardinia is a difficult rally,” said Adamo. “This morning was tough, but we saw some improvements in the afternoon.
“Ott has done something quite amazing; he’s been in his own world. He has found a good compromise between being fast and not abusing the car’s speed.
“Dani has improved during the day, while Thierry – at the very minimum – we can say he has had an eventful day. We hope tomorrow he will be able to catch up.”
Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport
Tanak was not the only Hyundai driver to suffer tyre issues as Neuville encountered two punctures in what turned out to be a challenging day for the Belgian.
The championship contender lacked confidence in the morning stages dropping significant time to his team-mates and the Toyota duo of Ogier and Elfyn Evans.
However, he did finish the day strongly with a stage win that leaves him in fifth position, 1.2s behind Evans.
“It was a difficult day for us. I struggled with confidence in the first stages,” said Neuville. “I didn’t get a good feeling, so we decided to go progressively throughout the day to get the speed. We changed a lot on the car, we went in the right direction with the settings.
“The car was a bit stiff this morning and we couldn’t get the traction, but things worked better this afternoon. Unfortunately, two punctures cost us a huge amount of time. I think we would have been able to close the gap to Sebastien without them.
“As a result, we lost a position on the road order for Saturday, but this rally is not over and maybe tomorrow is a positive turn and we might be free of issues.”
Rally Sardinia continues on Saturday with a further eight special stages beginning at 0708 BST.