While five stage wins out of 10 were what actually made Ott Tänak the winner of last week’s Arctic Rally Finland, he wouldn’t have been in that position at all were it not for the work put in just before the rally that turned his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC into the car to beat.
A suspended World Rally Championship ban meant Tänak left the Monte Carlo Rally with no points and a pretty big cloud over his head, especially when his i20 hadn’t truly looked capable of success.
Preparations for the second WRC round of the year had to go further, so demanded Hyundai Motorsport team principal Andrea Adamo, and Tänak and the team got to work.
They also went rallying, getting some snow mileage on Estonia’s Otepää Winter Rally. All in, including last-minute set-up changes, it combined to make Tänak unstoppable in the Arctic Circle and reignite his title challenge.
“I would say I’ve never been out from the title challenge,” Tänak countered to DirtFish.
“We are far from the end. Anyway, for sure it’s been important to get some points, and get some good points. Coming here, we expected some really big fights with the Toyota guys on their home ground.
“It looked like a big fight, but in the end it played out nicely.”
With Toyota expected to be victory favorites, did Tänak ever truly think Hyundai had the pace to fight for the win?
“No we didn’t. The pre-event test, which we did up here in the north, was in very different conditions. It was very snowy and some narrow, slow roads, and then we did also a small local event in Estonia just to get some more mileage, but also that was in some snowy conditions. So completely different to what we had here.
That’s what you need to do if you want to stay in the fight.Ott Tänak on his Arctic shakedown changes
“And also then I had no feeling in the car and no confidence, so we were definitely struggling, but these two weeks in the meantime I was probably pushing the engineers a lot that we need to find something at least for shakedown to drive a few runs. I’m sure there was a lot of work going around in the data, and also some information from last year. It was a big job, but it paid off in the end.
“Let’s call it new [set-ups],” he added. “It’s definitely not like completely new, but it’s some different things. We knew the things which were not working, so we had to try the things which would work.”
DirtFish pushed Tänak further on the details, and he revealed the root of his difficulties was the chassis and more specifically how the Hyundai handled. It was quite a brave decision to change set-up direction so close to the start of a high-speed rally.
“That’s what you need to do if you want to stay in the fight,” he said. “If you struggle behind the wheel, the times are not coming, so that was the only way to do it.
“And then, I still can say that I don’t feel completely confident in the car, but today it worked out nicely and we were able to do as much as needed.”
Despite his lack of confidence in the car, Tänak ended the weekend in Rovaniemi with 17.5 seconds in hand over his main Toyota rival Kalle Rovanperä, once again showing that the faster the roads are the better the 2019 World Rally Champion seems to be.