Tänak: Toyota is the benchmark in Croatia

Ott Tänak feels he'd be in a strong place if it was 12 months ago, but rival teams are raising the bar


Ott Tänak looked to the sky and likely said a silent word of thanks. He’d hoped for rain, but this was something else. Remember Sunday’s penultimate stage in Croatia last year?

It didn’t just rain, it poured. Then poured some more. It turned the event on its head. Kalle Rovanperä’s near half-minute lead was overturned in favor of a 1.4-second advantage for the Estonian and an inspired choice of wets on his Hyundai.

A drying final test allowed Rovanperä to go back to the front – but Tänak’s appreciation of damp conditions on the roads around Zagreb had been demonstrated.

Nothing’s changed.

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A glance at the weather forecast and there’s plenty of precipitation planned for Croatia. Conditions similar to those Tänak drove at Rallye Ardennes in Belgium last month would work for him.

“In Belgium,” he told DirtFish, “we were able to learn a bit more and get more of an idea with the car. It was quite lucky to have the wet weather – in these conditions the package is good.”

Bone dry, high-grip asphalt is still something of a concern for Ott and his Ford Puma Rally1.

He added: “When it was dry in Monte, I really struggled to find a good place balance wise. We were using the front tires quite badly on long and dry stages – we couldn’t keep the tires alive. I hope we found a better balance and the tires survive and push a bit more.”

Have they found enough for him to score a maiden Croatian win?

FIA ERC - Fia European Rally Championship 2023 at Fafe, Portugal

“I wouldn’t say I was completely happy,” he said. “It can be better, but when we saw what Toyota could do in Monte, I think we still have a bit to do to match them – but we will try to be closer and try to challenge them more.

“Let’s see how quickly we can get up to speed – last year at the same time with the package we have, we would have been quite strong. But the guys have been developing quite fast and we have some catching up to do.

“Toyota is the benchmark, but we also saw Hyundai was not so bad at the end of last year, they are both going to be very strong rivals.”

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M-Sport team principal Richard Millener however is confident that M-Sport and Tänak can take the fight anywhere.

“Croatia seems to have a habit of either being bone dry or absolutely lethal. I think if it’s really muddy, horrible conditions, Ott excels very well there,” Millener told DirtFish.

“Germany with us in 2017 when he was in the Fiesta where he won, incredible drive. Croatia last year, tricky conditions on the final stage, incredible drive from him. So I think he’d do very well in those conditions.

“Tarmac obviously there’s some road position advantages but it depends on the weather conditions, but it should be a little bit more stable. We know the car is very good on Tarmac.

“So yeah, I think we can go into that, well we can go into any rally this year expecting to be strong.”

Words:David Evans