Ott Tänak victorious in WRC Rally Sweden
Ott Tänak has won Rally Sweden, round two of the 2023 World Rally Championship (WRC) series, his first victory for M-Sport Ford, and the team's first since the opening round of the 2022 season.
The victory is a significant one also in the M-Sport Ford competes on a tighter budget than the two other works teams, Toyota, with whom Tänak won the 2019 title, and Hyundai, who he raced for 2020-2022.
The result also puts Tänak, 35, from Saaremaa, on top of the driver's table after to races in the 2023 season, and ahead of Kalle Rovanperä, who is reigning champion.
Tänak was suitably understated post-race, saying: "It's quite impressive, not so bad."
Of his and co-driver Martin Järveoja's tactics on the day, Tänak pointed out that consistency was the key to mastery.
"This weekend, coming into the rally we really didn't know what to expect, but now coming here, doing the rally – we could understand we were never going to be the fastest, but we were able to keep our average speeds a bit higher, and the other guys around us and made some mistakes and were a bit inconsistent, so yes, I would say that's how we maximized our chances," he went on.
Admin thinks @OttTanak is a pretty happy guy.— M-Sport (@MSportLtd) February 12, 2023
(We didn't think he could smile this much). pic.twitter.com/sJ5MLzYbp2
Tänak and Järveoja had spent most of race weekend in second place behind Irishman Craig Breen (Toyota), but despite winning just one of the regular stages, the consistency paid off as they gradually closed the gap on Breen, overtaking him to first place, by 8.6 seconds, in the overall standings at the end of Saturday.
That's what we all wanted to see. Nice work @MSportLtd and @OttTanak pic.twitter.com/87tRPnEn71— Lawrence (@Butch_on_Racing) February 12, 2023
Sunday involved two more tests, which were won by Finn Kalle Rovanperä, the 2022 champion, and the second stage by his Toyota teammate Takamoto Katsuta, followed by the power stage, won by Esapekka Lappi (Finland, Hyundai).
Breen did not catch the Estonians, while the Leitrim man also incurred a 10-second penalty on Sunday.
Final service of the rally ☑️— Ott Tänak (@OttTanak) February 12, 2023
Only 2 more stages to go and we are leading the event by 11.6sec.
Let's do this! #RallySweden #WRC #goOtt #TanakFanArmy #OttTanak #MartinJarveoja #MSPORTERS pic.twitter.com/gB4lrQKxHs
Rally leader @OttTanak heading towards the finish of SS Västervik 1. #RallySweden #WRC pic.twitter.com/Jf26cAxTct— Rallirinki / Teemu (@HartusvuoriWRC) February 12, 2023
While the pair did not win a stage Saturday, consistency and speed was key as the pulled ahead of earlier leader, Irishman Craig Breen (Hyundai). At the start of Saturday's stages, it was Breen who had been 2.6 seconds ahead of the Estonians.
Now Tänak and Järveoja are 8.6 seconds ahead of Breen.
Breen won the second stage of the day after Tänak's former teammate at Hyundai, Thierry Neuville of Belgium, won the first. Going into the lunchbreak after reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä (Toyota) won stage three, Breen was still in the lead, by three seconds over the Estonian.
However, after Breen failed to win another stage after lunch (Neuvill took three, Rovanperä, one), Tänak was able to capitalize, cutting the gap first to 1.7 seconds and then half a second.
In the final stage of the day, Tänak pulled as much as 10 seconds ahead of Breen after showing excellent pace which a ruptured left front tire on the final stage of the day did nothing to curb much as the Ford driver limped home to maintain his lead going into the final day.
Neuville lies in third place, Rovanperä in fourth and Welshman Elfyn Evans is currently fifth for Toyota.
Sunday's first test is already just underway in Umeå, in the northeast of Sweden, at the time of writing, having started at 8.05 a.m. Estonian time
Tänak finished the end of the first full day of Rally Sweden in second place, maintaining the place he occupied after Thursday evening's opening stag, 2.6 seconds behind Breen.
Seven stages were run around Umeå and, while the Estonians did not win any of the morning stages, they still went into lunchtime as overall leaders, thanks to a stable drive, albeit over just 7 seconds covering the top five drivers.
Breen took over the lead in the next stage, winning stage six also, to extend his lead to 10 seconds over Tänak, however.
Three Toyota drivers, Breen, reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä (Finland) and Takamoto Katsuta. who later spun off in stage six, divided most of the stages between them until the penultimate, in which Tänak finally prevailed M-Sport Ford Puma, performing strongly also in the last stage of the day to close the gap to under 3 seconds behind Breen.
Other Estonians taking part did not fare quite as well; Egon Kaur, racing in the second-tier WRC2 category, span in stage five, Robert Vires incurred an 80-second penalty, also in WRC2, while Georg Linnamäe, in the same category, has not been able to find a stable rhythm either, ERR's Sport portal reports.
Saturday sees seven more stages, starting at 9.05 a.m. Estonian time.
The final day's racing on Sunday brings two more stages plus the traditional power stage.
Tänak finished second in the opening stage of Rally Sweden Thursday.
"Hopefully we can be more competitive here than were were in Monte Carlo," Tänak said afterwards, as he and co-driver Martin Järveoja finished 1.6 seconds behind reigning WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä (Finland, Toyota).
Thursday's Umeå Sprint stage was 5.16km in length and started at just after 8 p.m. Estonian time Thursday.
Tänak was followed by Welshman Elfyn Evans (Toyota), Craig Breen (Ireland, Hyundai) and another Finn, Esapekka Lappi, driving for Toyota.
Tänak and Järveoja had also earlier finished second over the two shakedown runs Thursday morning, this time behind Lappi.
Another Estonian, Georg Linnamäe, who competes in the WRC2 category for Hyundai, and his English co-driver James Morgan, came 15th.
The placings after the second shakedown Thursday morning are below.
The first full race day starts Friday, 9.30 a.m. Estonian time (see itinerary below)
Before the race
Tänak and Järveoja finished fifth in Monte Carlo, the 2023 season opener, and their first race for M-Sport Ford, after joining the team in the off-season.
Rally Sweden complies with WRC requirements to have cold weather rallies during a season, while an event spokesperson told rally blog DirtFish that conditions were "great", after heavy snowfall a couple of weeks ago, ERR's Sport portal reports.
The temperature at Umea, in the east of the country and on a latitude above 63 degrees North, is forecast to hover around zero.
Tänak and Järveoja had also got in some winter rallying experience of their own in their home country last weekend, when they swept all before them in the Ford Puma in Otepää, at the first stage of the domestic series.
First two runs of Shakedown completed ☑️ #RallySweden #WRC #MSPORTERS #goOtt #TanakFanArmy pic.twitter.com/AfinDdA81L— Ott Tänak (@OttTanak) February 9, 2023
Tänak is joined by Pierre-Louis Lobet (France) at M-Sport Ford, while Irishman Craig Breen replaces Dani Sordo (Spain) at Hyundai, Tänak's former team, and will join Thierry Neuville (Belgium) and Esapekka Lappi (Finland).
Toyota, the team Tänak and Järveoja won the world title with in 2019, will field reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä (Finland), Elfyn Evans (Wales) and Takamoto Katsuta (Japan).
A total of 18 stages, coming to 301km overall, will be run over Thursday to Sunday as follows.
Rally Sweden itinerary
Stages with their length in kilometers; start times are based on Estonian time (UTC+2) and in the 24-hour clock. Completed stages in italics, with winner's name.
Thursday, February 9
Shakedown (Håkmark) 5.45 km 10.01 LAPPI
SS1 Umeå Sprint 1 5.16 km 20.05 ROVANPERÄ
Friday, February 10
SS2 Brattby 1 10.76 km 9.30 BREEN
SS3 Sarsjöliden 1 14.23 km 10.31 ROVANPERÄ
SS4 Botsmark 1 25.81 km 12.03 KATSUTA
LUNCH AND MAINTENANCE BREAK
SS5 Brattby 2 10.76 km 15.53 BREEN
SS6 Sarsjöliden 2 14.23 km 16.54 BREEN
SS7 Botsmark 2 25.81 km 18.26 TÄNAK
SS8 Umeå Sprint 2 25.81 km 20.05 ROVANPERÄ
Saturday, February 11
SS9 Norrby 1 12.54 km 9.05 NEUVILLE
SS10 Floda 1 28.25 km 9.56 BREEN
SS11 Sävar 1 17.28 km 11.41 ROVANPERÄ
LUNCH AND MAINTENANCE BREAK
SS12 Norrby 2 12.54 km 15.05 ROVANPERÄ
SS13 Floda 2 28.25 km 15.56 NEUVILLE
SS14 Sävar 2 17.28 km 17.41 NEUVILLE
SS15 Umeå 1 10.08 km 19.05 NEUVILLE
Sunday, February 12
SS16 Västervik 1 26.48 km 8.05 ROVANPERÄ
SS17 Västervik 2 26.48 km 11.05 KATSUTA
SS18 Umeå 2 10.08 km 12.18 [Power Stage]
The next race is in Mexico, a little over a month from now.
This article was updated to include all of Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday's results in Sweden.
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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Anders Nõmm