The World Rally Championship (WRC) season ends this week in Japan, with Ott Tänak looking to end the year, and his time with M-Sport Ford, on a high.
The championship has already been decided, after young Finn Kalle Rovanperä won his second back-to-back title last month. Second place is still there to battle for, between Welshman Elfyn Evans (Toyota), on 191 points, and Belgian Thierry Neuville, whom Tänak will be rejoining at Hyundai next year, on 184 points going into the final race. Both drivers and in particular Neuville have been in the ever-the-bridesmaid role in recent seasons.
Tänak, who won the title back in 2019 with Toyota, lies fourth on 162 points, a creditable standing given M-Sport is far less well-funded than the works Toyota and Hyundai teams.
He said: "I'm really looking forward to Japan, I really like the food there, but also the nature is very beautiful there at this time of the year, while the nights are already quite cold."
"We took the maximum from the Central European rally, so now the goal is to end the season in Japan with a strong result," he added.
After a lull between his first win of the season in February in Sweden, and his second win, in Chile, at the start of October, the Estonia and his compatriot co-driver Martin Järveoja reached the podium again in Central Europe – a race held on routes in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic – with third place.
Poignantly, Tänak shared the podium after his Sweden win with his friend, Irishman Craig Breen, driving for Hyundai. Tragically, Breen lost his life at the age of 33 after an accident in testing in Croatia in April, ahead of the WRC stage in that country.
M-Sport Ford team boss, Englishman Richard Millener, is also looking forward to the final Tänak/Järveoja showing, adding that weather conditions over the 304km course make tire choices crucial.
"This season the speed tests seem even tougher," he said.
"This is our last race with Ott and Martin, and I hope they can continue their great momentum and reach the podium for the third time in-a-row before we part ways. We wish them well for the future," Millener continued.
As noted Tänak and Järveoja rejoin Hyundai, with whom they raced 2020-2022, for the 2024 season.
The Rally Japan opening shakedown stage begins late on Wednesday/Thursday night Estonian time, while the first stage proper is at the less anti-social time of 12.05 p.m. Thursday.
Editor: Andrew Whyte