M-Sport managing director Malcolm Wilson has given all the credit to Ott Tänak for the partnership’s Rally Sweden win last weekend.
Tänak and M-Sport have a long and established history together as Wilson’s team was the one that gave Tänak his first WRC start, first WRC stage win, first WRC podium and first WRC victory.
Tänak has rejoined this year with the sole intention of winning the World Rally Championship title again – but things got off to a sub-par start on the Monte Carlo Rally where Tänak struggled to match the front-running pace as he fought for a better feeling aboard his Puma Rally1.
That result lowered expectations ahead of Sweden, but Tänak was in the thick of the battle all weekend and eventually prospered to beat M-Sport’s old driver Craig Breen to the rally win.
However, he still wasn’t fully content with the car, and despite never featuring outside the top two all weekend he only won one of the rally’s 18 stages.
But Tänak used his experience and gritty determination to seal a win that surpassed Wilson’s expectations.
“It’s just great to be back on the top step of the podium,” Wilson told DirtFish.
“I never doubted the ability and the car and the team and everything. But I have to say we’ve probably come here not expecting to get this result.
“I know we’ve still got work to do. We know that we can improve the car more to suit Ott’s liking, so at the end of the day this rally is down to him.
“We haven’t been the fastest car, but his experience, his ability, it’s him that’s done the job for us. OK, the guys have done a great job, but it’s Ott Tänak that’s won this rally.”
Wilson admitted that when he signed Tänak at the end of 2022 he was sure he could win rallies almost immediately, but he described Monte Carlo as “realization” that that would be more difficult than first anticipated.
“I’ve got to be honest, I did feel it when initially signing him that yes, we could win here,” Wilson said.
“But I’ve been seeing what he’s looking for, what he wants to do with the car, then the realization should we say hit us after Monte Carlo.
“I felt we could challenge for a podium here, but he’s obviously exceeded our expectations. What can I say?”
Tänak, who now leads the world championship for the first time since he won it with Toyota in 2019, didn’t expect to win Rally Sweden either, labeling the achievement “quite impressive”.
He told DirtFish: “When we came into the rally we really didn’t know what to expect, and now coming here – I mean during the rally, we would understand that we were never going to be the fastest but we were able to keep our average pace quite high and thanks to that and other guys around doing some mistakes and going a bit inconsistent, that’s how we maximized our chances.”
Asked at what point he felt he could win the rally, Tänak said: “Friday evening, I would say.
“I knew, especially Craig normally struggles on the second loop, and Saturday first loop we were able to stay close.
“And in the afternoon let’s say that was my plan to build the gap. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, we had some tire issues, and then we lost some time.
“But still, less than Craig did and today was just about managing.
“It’s definitely an emotional win,” Tänak added.
“I mean coming here in a small team like M-Sport fighting against big manufacturers, and delivering a win and first time on gravel car, it’s a big thing for everyone.
“We know there is quite a lot to do, and we need to definitely pick up to be championship contenders through the year.
“I’m sure these boys are keen, so they’re happy to do it.”