There were signs that 2019 World Rally Champion Ott Tänak was back to his imperious best on last week’s Rally Portugal – a sentiment Tänak himself has echoed.
Driving for Toyota in 2018 and ’19, Tänak won 10 of the 26 world rallies (38.5%); four more than Thierry Neuville and three more than Sébastien Ogier over the same period.
But since trading his Yaris for Hyundai’s i20 Coupe WRC last year and Ogier assuming his vacant seat at Toyota, Tänak has won twice from 11 starts (18.2%) while Ogier has won twice as much; grabbing four victories including two already this season. Elfyn Evans has also outscored Tänak, taking three wins since the start of 2020.
Realistically, Tänak and Evans’s figures should be reversed. Victory on last week’s Rally Portugal was Tänak’s for the taking until the rear-right suspension on his Hyundai began to fall apart and he was out – surrendering a 22.4-second lead in the process.
Tänak therefore flew home from Portugal 25 points poorer than he should’ve been, but still there are positives to take.
The manner in which Tänak had constructed that lead – which stood at six seconds after the first day where Tänak was “fighting” the car – was vintage. The old magic appeared to be back.
At the end of the Fafe powerstage, which he won, Tänak admitted “I haven’t been feeling [like this] since one-and-a-half-years” when he was at his swashbuckling best for Toyota.
When DirtFish put this to Tänak he responded: “It’s true, I guess you heard what I said [at the] end of the stage but I mean definitely at least since Saturday morning we started to find again a bit of the feeling I used to have years ago.
“So slowly, slowly we are getting there and [it’s] still a long season to go so everything’s still possible, but looking into the positives the pace is definitely improving.”
Asked what exactly had changed in Portugal to allow him to feel more at home, Tänak said: “It’s been a long, long job last one and a half years and it’s not been an easy job, many people have put a lot of effort to get here.
“Obviously this was first gravel rally in a long time and I don’t have really too much experience in the car so beginning of the rally I still had to learn and understand a bit.
“But yeah, we’ve been improving and learning and I think we are hopefully now able to put the combination together.
“Looking into the bigger picture I’m actually looking more forward to the whole season now,” he added.
“We’ve been getting into a rhythm and I started to have a bit of feeling on this rally, in the end it didn’t work out but I’m pretty sure if we still keep working we can still make this car work for me and then like this it can be promising [for the] second half of the season.”
Rivals: you’ve been warned.