Tanak confident on gravel ahead of Rally Sardegna

Ott Tanak says he now has a handle on how his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 car performs on gravel as the World Rally Championship heads to its third gravel rally of the season, Rally Italia Sardegna, on June 1.

Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja started Round 5 – Rally de Portugal – confident of challenging for a second victory of 2023 and early on Friday they found themselves leading by three seconds after the opening loop of stages.

But no sooner had they wrestled top spot away from their Rally1 rivals it slipped through their fingers when the front-right tyre came off the rim under braking on the second pass over Lousa.

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In all, the Estonians dropped 50.1s – but it later emerged they were lucky to still be in the rally at all after running repairs had to be carried out on their Puma’s water pump during remote service.

However, seventh position quickly became sixth on Friday following the departure of Toyota’s Elfyn Evans due to a heavy crash before the second Puma of M-Sport Ford team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet bowed out on Saturday’s second test.

Retirement beckoned for Loubet after he caught a tree stump on the inside of a left-hander with the impact causing the car to dart across the road into an embankment and sustain front-right damper damage.

A further place – and crucial extra Championship points – was gained early on Sunday due to Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1 being severely slowed by a turbo-related problem.

“It has been a tricky weekend but I think we’ve come out the other side with a lot of positives,” was M-Sport Team Principal Richard Millener’s assessment at the conclusion of Rally de Portugal.

“Ott’s pace at the beginning of the rally was fantastic and he continues to show us what both he and the car can really do.

“As usual, he has given us plenty of feedback and things to work on as we move forward, but ultimately, we are still second overall in the drivers’ Championship which is something we should be really proud of,” added the Englishman.

From Tanak’s side, despite leaving for home with a sense of ‘what if’ dominating his mind, he feels meaningful progress has been made on gravel that should pay dividends next time out.

“Overall, a demanding weekend for sure. We have been struggling quite a lot – it is just about understanding how we can go on from here,” said Tanak, who is provisionally second on eighty-one points – seventeen adrift of Rally de Portugal winner and current leader Kalle Rovanpera.

“It is my second gravel rally in the car now; in Mexico I wasn’t feeling completely confident and it has been hard to figure out what’s been missing, but this weekend has given us a lot more understanding and now I think we’ve enough information to move forward,” he added.

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