M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson doesn’t see any reason why new signing Ott Tänak can’t challenge for victory on this week’s Rally Sweden – although Tänak himself feels that will be “difficult”.
Tänak rejoined M-Sport – the team he first drove for in the World Rally Championship’s top class – after a troubled three-year spell at Hyundai, and began his time driving a Puma Rally1 with fifth place on the Monte Carlo Rally last month.
Power-steering issues hindered his progress on the Saturday, but realistically fifth was the best on offer for the 2019 world champion given all three Toyotas, and Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai, were quicker across the weekend.
But that puts Tänak in a good position ahead of round two, given he’ll start behind his three main title rivals – Kalle Rovanperä, Neuville and Elfyn Evans – on the road. He is also just nine points adrift of Rovanperä, the highest placed of the full-time drivers in the standings.
However, finding a set-up that is optimal for him has proved a small hurdle for Tänak, and he’s expecting the same issue to restrict him slightly in Sweden.
“For sure it will take us a few rallies to get fit let’s say, to get into the rhythm and understand actually what we need to do,” Tänak told DirtFish after Monte Carlo.
“So, yeah, it was important to get the mileage from this rally and, for sure, probably it’s difficult to make the best out of Sweden and México as well. But let’s see where we are and if we can find some good pace then we can build on that.”
As well as completing a one-day pre-event test, Tänak also benefited from close to 70 miles of competitive driving on home ground as he won last weekend’s Otepää talveralli.
His boss, Wilson, is optimistic ahead of the WRC’s one and only true winter rally.
“I think we’ve got to be challenging in Sweden,” he told DirtFish when asked when it would be realistic to see Tänak winning rallies. “I don’t see any reason why we can’t.
“There’s no question that Toyota are really strong, but I think the combination of Ott and hopefully some of the stuff that we can do, I’d like to think that we’ll not be that far away in Sweden.”
M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener’s expectations are more reserved, but he stressed that the rekindled partnership has got off to “a good start so far”.
Millener told DirtFish: “I wouldn’t be surprised if we have a similar position in Sweden [to Monte Carlo].
“It’s the first real time on snow or gravel for Ott in the car. México I think is a bit more of a leveller in terms of the stages and the conditions.
Tänak’s WRC moves
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“We had a very specific set of conditions here [in Monte] of very clean, dry Tarmac which always suits a very circuit-like race car and Toyota’s been able to concentrate on that with the same drivers over the last couple of seasons.
“They’ve got an advantage on us in that sense but our goal is to get a bit closer and closer as we go along and it’s a championship, it’s not one race.”