Just like most rounds of the World Rally Championship, last weekend’s Rally of Portugal featured some long road sections and some early starts.
But, according to Ott Tänak, Sunday morning’s start was too early for some.
“The hybrid didn’t like the short night overnight, it seems like this guy is not waking up today, ha!”
It was another witty line during a weekend of classic stage-end quotes from the 2019 world champion, that included comparing his Puma Rally1 to a wooden horse and describing his feeling through the first pass of Felgueiras as like he’d never driven a rally car before.
But this particular line, delivered at the end of Sunday’s opening Paredes test, had the feeling of laughing through the pain.
You see, Ott Tänak and the Rally1 hybrid unit have never been the best of friends.
On Rally Sweden last year, he became the first driver forced to retire from a round of the World Rally Championship with an unsafe hybrid kit.
At the time, he had been just 1.1 seconds shy of the lead.
Sporting regulations were adapted before the next event to lessen the impact of missing a stage through hybrid failure, to which Tänak responded by questioning the overall reliability of the units.
Nowadays, there are far fewer failures but after a weekend where he uncovered a new list of things to request M-Sport changes to his car, Tänak was ready to go home.
Commenting on his stage win on the penultimate test as others backed off to save tires for the powerstage, Tänak called it “just a faster way to the end [of the rally]”.
The real sting was that without the additional power from his hybrid unit, pushing for powerstage points was going to be extremely difficult.
His patience had well and truly been tested.
But the rally gods decided to repay Tänak, as his hybrid unit returned for the points-paying powerstage.
“I got it back for the powerstage,” Tänak explained.
“I would say we were quite lucky with that because all day we’ve been working on it and we were not able to engage the hybrid, but somehow it started again and now it’s working so very, very lucky.
“Definitely gave us a few more points.”
It certainly did – four to be exact.
He still lost a point to new championship leader Kalle Rovanperä who won the powerstage by 0.7 seconds but trailing by 17 points is a lot better than 21. Those four points could ultimately prove the difference in Japan, you just never know.
It would’ve been preferable to have his hybrid unit working for the entirety of the rally, of course. But with the way the gaps were on the final day, Tänak wouldn’t have gained any positions overall even if it was operational, yet was still clear to fight on the one stage where it mattered most.