Rally Estonia thankful Tänak penalty didn’t detract fans

Rally director Urmo Aava admitted he was worried it might, but is grateful for the spectators continuing to turn out

Ott Tänak

Rally Estonia director Urmo Aava has thanked Estonian fans for continuing to support the event despite home hero Ott Tänak’s five-minute penalty.

Tänak was ejected from the fight to win the rally before it had even begun after the engine in his Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid was changed after shakedown on Thursday.

As per the World Rally Championship’s sporting regulations, that gave him a five-minute penalty as the car had already been scrutineered.

Tänak eventually fought back to finish eighth overall, winning six of the first eight stages as he rocketed up the leaderboard.

Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja

Aava, himself a former WRC driver with over 50 starts, admitted he feared Tänak’s penalty would put several fans off from attending, even if they had purchased a ticket.

But he is thankful that they continued to support their hero and the event itself.

“As Estonians, of course it was a big disappointment for everybody that before it started it was already lost,” Aava told DirtFish.

“But big thanks to Estonian fans, I see so many flags and I was afraid that a lot of fans would stay at home even if they had a rally pass, but it looks like from the traffic jams they didn’t!

“They are supporting and this is nice to watch, and even they were sharing and looking at Ott when he won a lot of stages on Friday so I think on Thursday it gave a lot of emotions, but nothing to do.”

Tänak himself said that the support he received “has been incredible” while his boss, M-Sport Ford team principal Richard Millener, also wanted to thank the fans for sticking by the team.

“What happened was really disappointing for everybody – nobody more than the team but I also feel really sorry for all of the fans and all of the home fans,” Millener told DirtFish.

“There was a big expectation for us and a huge race, and it started in possibly the most difficult circumstances we could have ever dreamt of and that’s not something we ever wanted to see happen.

“So we apologize to all of them, and I would like to take this chance to personally thank all of the Estonian fans for supporting Ott, Martin and the team over this tricky weekend.”

Aava’s response to jump complaints

FIA World Rally Championship 2023 Stop 08 - Tartu, Estonia

Although event winner Kalle Rovanperä made repeated reference to the fact the Estonian stages are his favorite on the calendar, there were some complaints from drivers on Saturday about the nature of the man-made jumps; particularly on the Otepää stage.

Addressing Rovanperä’s praise, Aava called it a “big honor” but then defended the event’s use of artificial jumps.

“I know that some drivers are complaining about these artificial jumps,” Aava said, “but we haven’t built [any more man-made jumps] for two years any more and they have become smoother.

“We want it that if there are different corners there are also different jumps and crests, so you have to choose your speed.

“I understand it is painful, we are considering to do some more work in the future but still I think it is a balance of picking your speed.

“You cannot go flat out everywhere.”