Tanak rises as the sun sets on WRC Rally Sweden’s Saturday blast

M-Sport photo

Tanak rises as the sun sets on WRC Rally Sweden’s Saturday blast


Tanak rises as the sun sets on WRC Rally Sweden’s Saturday blast


When the sun went down on Saturday at WRC Rally Sweden, M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tanak unleashed a devastating run of stage times, demoting Hyundai’s Craig Breen to second overall heading into Sunday’s three-stage finale.

The dueling duo traded times over the course of the rally’s longest day, with Breen holding on to a marginal advantage at the halfway point in his i20 N Rally1.

But as the snow-covered roads became more and more rutted in the fading light of the afternoon loop, Puma Rally1 driver Tanak began to reel in his rival — arriving at the start of the penultimate Savar test just a half second in arrears after Breen had suffered time loss with a delaminated tire.

There, Tanak excelled in the night-time conditions, with the split times showing he was on course to outpace Breen by around 10s. In another dramatic twist, however, the Estonian suffered near-identical tire troubles to his opponent — but still managed to better Breen’s time by 2.8s to snatch the lead.

In the day’s final stage, the 6.26-mile Umea test, Tanak was faster again, while Breen complained of a mysterious technical issue. The 2019 FIA World Rally Champion ended the leg 8.6s to the good, laying the foundations for M-Sport Ford’s first victory in over a year.

“It was a challenging day,” admitted Tanak. “We had everything planned for the last two stages — to keep the tires and make the time up there — but then we lost them and we had to do the last stage with no studs on one tire. It’s never comfortable until it’s done. Let’s get to the finish first.”

Esapekka Lappi fell down the order after running wide on a left-hander in the afternoon’s second stage, plunging his Hyundai into a snowbank and losing several minutes as spectators helped free the car. The Finn’s problems opened the door for Thierry Neuville and reigning WRC champ Kalle Rovanpera to fight for the final podium spot.

Rovanpera, driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, held the upper hand until late in the day, but he gave way to Hyundai’s Neuville in the final stage as his tires wore out. The pair were split by 3.8s at close of play, with Neuville only 15.1s adrift of teammate Breen.

Neuville fought his way back into podium contention for Hyundai. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Elfyn Evans lacked confidence aboard his Yaris and subsequently tumbled down the order behind Neuville and Rovanpera to end the day more than a half minute further back.

Behind, Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his Puma home in sixth overall, another 90s down on Evans, as the Frenchman continues to gain experience on full snow and ice.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Oliver Solberg is on track to claim his first victory in the class after piloting his all-new Skoda Fabia RS to a 51.6s buffer over Ole Christian Veiby’s Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Oliver Solberg consolidated his lead over the WRC2 class. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Solberg began Saturday with a 13s lead, and the 21-year-old Swede immediately set about consolidating it. He set the pace on the day’s opening stage, stretching his buffer to 17.1s over closest rival Sami Pajari, who was distracted by a flailing side window.

Distraction turned to frustration one stage later for Pajari when a spin cost the former Junior WRC champ 40s. He dropped back to fourth overall, alleviating the pressure on Solberg with new runner-up Ole Christian Veiby more than half a minute back.

Jari Huttunen’s podium dreams were short lived as the Finn crashed into a snowbank on the afternoon’s first stage, plummeting to 14th overall. Two stages later his day was over with engine issues for his R5-spec Fabia. That allowed Pajari to return back inside the top three. 

Three stages form Sunday’s final leg. Back-to-back runs through Vastervik (16.45 miles) — a new addition to the route for 2023 — are up first, ahead of another run through Umea, which forms the rally-closing, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.

WRC Rally Sweden, leading positions after Day Two, SS15
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) 1h54m45.4s
2 Craig Breen/James Fulton (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +8.6s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +23.7s
4 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +27.5s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +57.7s
6 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m28.1s
7 Oliver Solberg/ Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +5m55.0s
8 Ole Christian Veiby/Torstein Eriksen (Volkswagen Polo GTI – WRC2) +6m46.6s
9 Sami Pajari/Enni Malkonen (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +7m08.9s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +7m20.0s

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