Tanak surges to WRC Rally Sweden victory

Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Tanak surges to WRC Rally Sweden victory


Tanak surges to WRC Rally Sweden victory


Ott Tanak secured a pivotal win at Rally Sweden on Sunday afternoon, ending M-Sport Ford’s year-long victory drought on only his second FIA World Rally Championship event since returning to the team.

The Estonian Puma Rally1 driver clinched his second Sweden success by 18.7s ahead of Hyundai’s Craig Breen. It moves him into the lead of the WRC drivers’ standings by three points after round two of 13.

Watch Day 3 highlights below:

Tanak drove for M-Sport between 2011 and ’17 before spending several seasons with rivals Toyota, with whom he won the 2019 WRC title, and Hyundai. He re-signed for the British-based squad just weeks before this season got underway, and Sunday’s result marks the team’s first victory since last year’s Monte Carlo Rally, 385 days ago.

“It obviously means a lot to me, to come into a new car and deliver to these guys (at M-Sport),” said 35-year-old Tanak. “It’s a big effort for them to fight against such big manufacturers.

“I am sure they are getting quite a bit of stress from me, but as long as it’s delivering then we are all winning. It’s great to be part of this team.”

Returning to the top of the WRC podium with his new/old team was an emotional moment for Tanak. M-Sport photo

Breen, who’s running a part-time program with Hyundai, led for half of the snow and ice fixture in his i20 N Rally1, but Tanak was always hot on his heels and took the lead with a night-time charge on Saturday’s leg. After that, he never looked back.

Team tactics saw Breen deliberately check in one-minute late to the regroup before the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage, landing himself with a 10-second penalty in order to promote teammate Thierry Neuville into the runner-up spot. The aim was to give the Belgian — who drives full-time for the team — more valuable drivers’ championship points.

However, those plans didn’t work out for Hyundai as Neuville dropped time with a scrappy run through the finale — moving Breen back into the second spot by just 1.3s.

Breen tried to follow team orders but still wound up leading the charge for Hyundai. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Reigning WRC champ Kalle Rovanpera, driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, had been locked into a tight scrap with Neuville early in the day, but he fell out of the battle when his rival bolted on four fresh Pirelli tires for the final two stages.

In the end, Rovanpera finished just 5.1s adrift of Neuville and the podium — ensuring Toyota Gazoo Racing remains on top of the manufacturers’ standings by 14 points ahead of Hyundai Motorsport.

Elfyn Evans completed the top five almost a minute behind his Toyota teammate on a weekend when he lacked confidence in his Yaris on the icy, often rutted stages. Pierre-Louis Loubet brought the second M-Sport Puma home a lonely sixth, overcoming a technical scare in the final stage by driving to the finish in hybrid mode.

Meanwhile, Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi was left to rue what could have been after a costly excursion into a snow bank on Saturday afternoon dropped him out of the podium battle. The Finn, who switched to Hyundai from Toyota over the off-season, fought back to finish a disappointed seventh overall.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Oliver Solberg claimed his first class victory. Driving a Skoda Fabia RS, the 21-year-old Swede produced an error-free Sunday drive to take a 42.3s win over Ole Christian Veiby, the Norwegian having to settle for the runner-up slot for a second year running in his Volkswagen Polo GTI.

Oliver Solberg put on a solid display of talent and consistency to bring home the WRC2 win. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Rounding out the top three in an identical Fabia to Solberg was fellow 21-year-old Sami Pajari, the 2021 FIA Junior WRC champion recording his maiden WRC2 podium.

Solberg started the final day of action in Sweden’s snowy north with a 51.6s buffer over Veiby. With such a lead, he could afford to take a conservative approach to the remaining 39.17 competitive miles.

That didn’t stop him from going on the attack in the Wolf Power Stage, however, and he secured maximum bonus points after outpacing reigning WRC2 champ Emil Lindholm’s Skoda by 0.5s in the finale.

“It’s fantastic — what a great feeling!” Solberg exclaimed. “It’s been a long time since I won, and finally everything worked correctly and I’m really happy. Elliott (Edmondson, co-driver) did an amazing job and for sure it’s been an amazing weekend — no mistakes and really consistent.”

The championship returns to North America next month as Rally Mexico takes place March 16-19. It’s the first running of the Leon-based WRC counter since a COVID-truncated 2020 rally won by Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier. The Frenchman, who is running only a partial season in 2023, will be on Toyota Gazoo Racing’s roster for the event.  

WRC Rally Sweden, final positions after Day Three, SS18
1 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) 2h25m54.5s
2 Craig Breen/James Fulton (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +18.7s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +20.0s
4 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +25.1s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m24.0s
6 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +5m59.0s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +7m42.4s
8 Oliver Solberg/ Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +7m48.1s
9 Ole Christian Veiby/Torstein Eriksen (Volkswagen Polo GTI – WRC2) +8m30.4s
10 Sami Pajari/Enni Malkonen (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +9m03.2s

WRC drivers’ championship after 2 rounds
Tanak 41 points
2 Rovanpera 38
3 Neuville 32
4 Evans 29
5 Sebastien Ogier 26

WRC manufacturers’ championship after 2 rounds
Toyota Gazoo Racing 80 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 66
3 M-Sport Ford 51   

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