M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener is optimistic the team can have a strong end to the season, despite Ott Tänak’s World Rally Championship title chances fading.
Tänak joined M-Sport from Hyundai for 2023, rejoining the team he left for Toyota at the end of 2018.
The partnership had the same shared ambition of lifting the championship, and things started well with victory on the second round in Sweden which elevated Tänak to the top of the table.
But Tänak hasn’t claimed a podium finish since April’s Croatia Rally with a combination of small mistakes, a lack of comfort behind the wheel and technical problems restricting his challenge.
After round nine in Finland, Tänak is fourth in the championship and 66 points down on reigning world champion Kalle Rovanperä with 120 points left to play for.
The last two rounds have been particularly disappointing with a five-minute penalty for a pre-event engine change ruining Tänak’s home event in Estonia before it had even begun, and bedrock on the inside of a corner damaging his Puma Rally Hybrid’s sump guard and ultimately ruling him out of the entire weekend with engine damage.
To add insult to injury, Estonia and Finland are two events Tänak typically excels on.
Millener conceded that the championship is probably now out of reach this year, but he is confident that the last third of the season should be better for M-Sport.
“I think it’s clear that the issue with [Tänak’s] car was damage from an impact,” Millener told DirtFish.
“I see a lot of comments on the internet like you know I do. I look at what’s going on, don’t necessarily take it all in but I think it just goes to show the difference between what you know on the inside of the team when you get the facts vs what can be perceived from the outside straightaway.
“And with the modern world that we live in the first person that says something, [that] seems to spread and be the truth [and that] can often be quite harmful for things when it’s not necessarily the facts.
It kind of takes the pressure off us in some ways, we've just got to go and commit to each rallyRichard Millener
“But ultimately yes we had another tough weekend [in Finland] – two mistakes on the Friday have cost us a result but the championship is probably out of reach now, but then you see what happened to Kalle so you never know what could go on.
“[It’s] still theoretically possible, still got four rallies – four rallies where I think we can be strong.
“The car was strong in Greece last year. Tänak’s great on Tarmac and we know it’s good on Tarmac having won in Monte Carlo and got good results, good performance on Tarmac and then Chile which is also a bit like Greece meets GB meets Sardinia style rally where I don’t see a reason why we can’t be strong there as well.
“So it kind of takes the pressure off us in some ways, we’ve just got to go and commit to each rally.
“Yes there’s still conditions that Ott doesn’t like driving the car in that doesn’t suit him totally, so [we will] continue to use up all the testing allocation we have to try and help with that.
“But the technical regulations are tight so we can’t change miracles overnight. We just have to keep going.”
Tänak reiterated the need for a reset, adding: “Now it’s time to have a break after a busy few months, then we will focus fully on Greece in September.”