Ott Tänak secured a pivotal win on Rally Sweden this afternoon – ending M-Sport Ford’s victory drought on only his second FIA World Rally Championship start since returning to the team.
Co-driven by Martin Järveoja in a Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid, Tänak scored his second Sweden success by 18.7 seconds ahead of Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid driver Craig Breen.
As a result, the Estonian moves to the top of the provisional standings by a margin of three points.
Tänak drove for M-Sport between 2011 and 2017 before stints with Toyota – where he became world champion in 2019 – and Hyundai. He re-signed for the British squad for this season and today’s result marks the team’s first triumph since Rallye Monte-Carlo in 2022 – 385 days ago.
“It obviously means a lot to me, to come into a new car and deliver to these guys [at M-Sport].” Tänak said. “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.”
Breen, who is contesting a partial season for Hyundai following a year with M-Sport, led for half of the snow and ice fixture but Tänak was always hot on his heels. The 35-year-old got the better of his rival during a night-time charge on the penultimate day and never looked back.
Team tactics led to Breen to deliberately check in one-minute late to the pre-Wolf Power Stage regroup, lumbering himself with a 10-second penalty to promote colleague Thierry Neuville into the runner-up spot. The aim was to give the Belgian – who drives full-time – more valuable drivers’ championship points.
However, those plans didn’t work out for Hyundai when Neuville dropped time with a scrappy run through the event-deciding Power Stage, which promoted Breen back in front by just 1.3s.
World champion Kalle Rovanperä, driving for Toyota Gazoo Racing, had been locked in a tight scrap with Neuville early in the day, but he fell out of the battle when his rival bolted on four fresh Pirelli tyres for the final two tests.
Rovanperä finished just 5.1s adrift of the podium – ensuring the Japanese marque remains on top of the manufacturers’ standings by 14 points ahead of Hyundai.
Elfyn Evans completed the top five almost a minute behind his team-mate on a rally when he lacked confidence. Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his Puma home a lonely sixth, overcoming a technical scare on the final stage by driving to the finish in electric mode.
Esapekka Lappi was left to rue what could have been after a costly excursion on Saturday afternoon dropped him out of the podium battle. The Hyundai newcomer fought back to finish seventh overall by the end of the four-day event.
FIA WRC2 winner Oliver Solberg was eighth overall for his first victory in the category and the first for the all-new Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Class rival Ole Christian Veiby placed ninth in a Volkswagen Polo with Sami Pajari winning FIA WRC2 Challenger for Toksport in 10th overall.
Finnish youngster Roope Korhonen triumphed in FIA WRC3 at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally3 with William Creighton taking victory in the FIA Junior WRC Championship in an identical Fiesta. The Motorsport Ireland Rally Academy driver retook the lead from FIA Junior ERC champion Laurent Pellier on the penultimate stage and held on to win by a slender 0.6s. Michał Sołowow won FIA WRC Masters by nine and a half minutes.
Guanajuato Rally México hosts round three of the 2023 FIA WRC season from March 16-19, which marks the championship’s return to North America for the first time since 2020.