Tanak surges to Sweden victory
By Jason Craig
Monday 13th February, 2023 - 9:25am
An inch-perfect drive on the closing three Sunday snow stages handed Ott Tanak a maiden Rally Sweden victory to move top of the World Rally Championship standings.
Tanak bagged two additional points on the end-of-event Power Stage which, combined with twenty-five for a win, elevated him above his title rivals on forty-one points.
The result had added significance as it ended a 13-month barren spell for his new team – M-Sport Ford – following their last success in the competition at Rallye Monte-Carlo back in January 2022. It was also Tanak’s eighteenth career victory in the sport’s top flight.
“It obviously means a lot to me, to come into a new car and deliver to these guys,” he said. “It’s a big effort for them to fight against such big manufacturers. I’m sure they’re getting quite a bit of stress from me, but as long as it’s delivering then we’re all winning. It’s great to be part of this team.”
Tanak began the day with a time that was three seconds quicker than eventual runner-up Craig Breen despite momentarily losing his braking point midway through ‘Vastervik’ in his Puma Rally1.
On the next test, Breen responded by reclaiming 3.1s to leave the gap at 8.5s with only the short, sharp Power Stage to run where he eventually lay claim to the last point that was up for grabs.
Set-up tweaks to his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 on the road section beforehand enabled Breen to go on the attack in an attempt to regain the lead he lost early on Saturday afternoon when it emerged the hybrid unit on his Korean supermini had failed, leaving him down on power to the tune of 134bhp (99.92kW).
But trying to find more than a second-a-kilometre on the 10.08km ‘Umea’ blast was always going to be a tall order and a difficult job became an impossible one when he incurred a 10 second penalty for checking into the regroup a minute late, thus promoting team-mate Thierry Neuville up to second.
Given that Breen is contesting only a partial campaign this year with countryman James Fulton, the penalty was seen as a way of transferring the extra Championship points to Neuville. However, in an incredible twist of fate, Breen’s time on the Power Stage was marginally quicker than Neuville’s to ensure they traded places right at the death and leave those making the decisions back at Hyundai Motorsport HQ looking red faced.
“That was not the plan – but I had no way of knowing,” explained Breen in reference to the fact real time information is not allowed to be relayed by teams to the crews when a stage is live. “We are just so happy – it has been an incredible weekend and it is great to be back at the front again.”
The result was his eighth top-three finish in the World Rally Championship and his fifth in Hyundai Motorsport colours.
Neuville had woken up on Sunday 3.8s clear of Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera but immediately saw that reduced to 1.1s on completion of the day’s ‘Vastervik’ opener. However, traversing the second from last stage six seconds quicker gave him much-needed breathing space over the hard-charging Finn and it proved enough as he rounded out the podium spots with Martin Wydaeghe.
Rovanpera was not too despondent, though, as the result means he will not have to run first on the road at Rally Mexico next month. “I did not want to take five points on the Power Stage. For sure, there was a bit of a plan,” said the reigning – and youngest ever – World Rally champion.
A frustrating weekend for Elfyn Evans that was beset by the ride and balance of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 concluded with him coming home fifth and earning four extra points from the Power Stage.
Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi scored the maximum allocation, his decision to tackle Sunday with no spare wheels in the boot of his I20 N Rally1 supermini paying dividends for him and Janne Ferm.
For them it was a case of what could have been having been in silverware contention until late on Saturday only for a delaminated tyre to spit them off the road and into a snowbank where they remained for seven minutes until spectators managed to free them.
There was late drama for M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet on the Power Stage as the Frenchman was forced to complete the event in ‘EV’ mode when smoke appeared to billow from underneath the bonnet of his Puma Rally1.
He stopped the car mid-way through the stage and exited it with co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul to brief lift the bonnet with fire extinguisher in hand before both returned to the cockpit and went on their way again. “We had a bit of smoke but don’t worry,” said Loubet afterwards. “It was not fire.”
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