Ott Tänak secured a pivotal win at Rally Sweden on Sunday afternoon – ending M-Sport Ford’s victory drought on only his second FIA World Rally Championship event since returning to the team.
The Estonian scored his second Sweden success by 18.7sec ahead of Hyundai i20 N driver Craig Breen, taking the lead of the series by three points after round two of 13.
Tänak drove for M-Sport between 2011 and 2017 before spending several seasons with rivals Toyota and Hyundai. He re-signed for the British squad at the beginning of this season and today’s result marks the team’s first triumph since Rallye Monte-Carlo last year – 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.”
Part-time driver Breen led for half of the snow and ice fixture but Tänak, driving a Puma, was always hot on his heels. The Estonian surpassed his rival with a night-time charge on the penultimate day and never looked back.
Team tactics saw Breen 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 as Neuville dropped time with a scrappy run through the finale – moving Breen back in front by just 1.3sec.
Kalle Rovanperä, driving for Toyota Gazoo Racing, 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 tyres for the final two tests.
Rovanperä finished just 5.1sec 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 weekend when he lacked confidence. Pierre-Louis brought his Puma home a lonely sixth, overcoming a technical scare in the final stage by driving to the finish in hybrid 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 fixture.
WRC2 winner Oliver Solberg was eighth ahead of fellow support category drivers Ole Christian Veiby and Sami Pajari.
The championship returns to the Americas next month as Guanajuato Rally México, based in León, takes place from 16 – 19 March.
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma 2hr 25min 54.5sec
2. C Breen / J Fulton IRL Hyundai i20 N +18.7sec
3. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +20.0sec
4. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris +25.1sec
5. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +1min 24.0sec
6. PL Loubet / N Gilsoul FRA Ford Puma +5min 59.0sec
Drivers’ championship points (after round 2 of 13):
1. O Tänak 41pts
2. K Rovanperä 38pts
3. T Neuville 32pts