Has Tänak time arrived?

On the back of Sardinia win, the Estonian has three favorable rallies on the horizon


Seven years ago, almost to the day, Ott Tänak dived into the Alghero harbor for the first time. Finally, he was a world rally winner.

Sardinia earlier this month turned a story full circle for the Estonian. It’s been a busy seven years. He’s changed teams four times, scored a further 19 WRC wins. And, of course, he’s earned the title of world champion.

It hasn’t, however, been a bed of roses.

In a recent television interview at home, Tänak talked of the dark times his family endured when his wife suffered health issues in 2022. It was an enlightening conversation, one that showed a different side to the 2019 champion.

Thankfully, those days are behind them now and watching this year’s Rally Italy winner flying head-first, harbor-bound, there was a real feeling that this could be the start of Tänak time all over again.

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Tänak is diving headlong into drivers' title fight

Alghero’s very much a place of mixed emotions for Ott. Yes, he took that maiden win in an M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC, but two years later he had a near certain victory whipped away with power-steering issues aboard his Toyota GR Yaris WRC. Since then, he’s either hit mechanical trouble or he’s won.

Last weekend’s victory was a big one. By his own admission, the start to the year has been tricky. His return to the Hyundai team hasn’t delivered the immediate successes he would have hoped. Until now.

For much of that Sunday, it looked like the result would be the same as three weeks earlier in Portugal, when he trailed former team-mate Sébastien Ogier home. When the Frenchman was slowed by a tire off the rim of his Toyota, Tänak’s moment arrived. He won by two tenths.

Eureka. Sort of.

Let’s keep this in perspective: Tänak hasn’t suddenly found a heap of confidence in the car underneath him. He hasn’t dialed out the understeer and landed a level of grip which has given him that balance he’s been chasing.


The Estonian's first WRC win also came in Sardinia, in 2017

But he has returned himself and co-driver Martin Järveoja to the winners’ circle. And he has outscored his championship-leading team-mate Thierry Neuville for the past three rounds – cutting a post-Kenya deficit of 34 points to just 18 after his Italian win.

The wind is beginning to gather in the main sail above i20 #8 and, from his side, it couldn’t have come at a better moment. With the WRC’s summer of speed – in the shape of three fast gravel rallies in Poland, Latvia and Finland – sitting ahead of him, are we entering Tänak time?

It’s hard to argue against such thinking.

Granted, series part-timers Kalle Rovanperä and Esapekka Lappi might step in and spoil the party to some extent, but if you had to back one driver to lift big points between here and August’s first Sunday afternoon in Jyväskylä, it would be Tänak. With Hyundai’s permanent test site close to Jämsä (at the heart of fast Finland) and the benefit of an extra event in the shape of a home run in Tartu (on Latvia-esque roads), the 36-year-old is looking strong.

While the i20 has historically struggled on fast gravel, Tänak’s Finland win two years ago was the stuff of legend. He drove the rally of his life in a car that had no business troubling the Toyotas at the top of the table.

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Win in Finland, 2022, required Tänak to be on the ragged edge throughout

The i20 is a different proposition now. And so’s Tänak. Two years ago, he was ready to stop what he was doing and go home to look after his family. Anybody who’s seen him, his wife and his children together will understand there’s only one team around which Ott’s life truly revolves.

Later this month, he starts a season within a season knowing he has the pace and the ability to outshine his competitors. There’s very much a feeling that the fire’s burning again. Can he recapture that incredible speed of 2018/19? Why not?

And anybody who’s forgotten what Tänak was capable of in those two years with Toyota should remember the stats. In his first year in a Yaris, he won 70 stages (next best was Neuville on 40) and led for 86 (next best was Ogier on 65). That was impressive, but the title year was even more so as he led for 109 stages… 75 more than anybody else.

Admittedly, the Yaris was a car with which he found immediate comfort and, of course, he was five and six years younger than he is now.

But he’s still got it. The pace, the desire and the potential is all there.

Tänak time, indeed.