Tänak wins in Sweden, Breen reclaims second

That victory moves Tänak into the championship lead

Ott Tänak

Ott Tänak has claimed the first World Rally Championship victory of his M-Sport Ford return, beating Craig Breen to the Rally Sweden win by 18.7 seconds as Hyundai’s team orders got messy.

Hyundai had asked Breen to check into the final regroup one minute late to incur a 10s time penalty and let team-mate Thierry Neuville ahead. That meant Neuville was half a second up before the powerstage.

But a messy stage from Neuville meant he lost 1.7s to Breen after sliding wide and slamming a snowbank, so Breen finished ahead.

And with less than 10s between Neuville and fourth-placed Kalle Rovanperä, Hyundai is unable to switch the pair back without losing a double podium.

Out front Tänak’s win, plus fourth on the powerstage, moves Tänak into the lead of the championship for the first time since he won it in 2019, three points ahead of reigning world champion Rovanperä with Neuville another six points further back.

Rovanperä won Sweden 12 months ago but could only manage fourth this time around as he was edged to the final podium slot by Thierry Neuville.

Rovanperä did lead the rally after Thursday night’s opener but as soon as the first day dawned, it was M-Sport’s new team leader Tänak that hit the front.


But he wasn’t the one setting the pace. Back driving a Hyundai after leaving the squad in 2021, Craig Breen was in inspired form and, by the afternoon, had swiped the lead from Tänak’s grasp.

And so began a deeply engrossing battle between the two drivers who swapped teams over the winter.

Breen led by 2.6s after Friday’s action and extended that margin to three seconds over the course of the morning, but the afternoon would get away from him as a hybrid issue on three of the four stages restricted his pace – as did a delaminated tire right at the end of SS13.

Tänak therefore closed to just 0.5s behind his rival after that stage, but incredibly picked up a delamination of his own on the very next test. It spoiled what was looking like a sensational run, but given Breen’s hybrid problems Tänak still moved into the lead of the rally.

His advantage heading into the final day stood at 8.6s, and a stage win on Sunday morning’s opener all but sealed the deal.

Tänak dropped 3.1s to Breen on the repeat pass but he could afford to, and he managed to win a WRC rally in a Puma Rally1 at just the second time of asking – and despite never truly feeling happy throughout the weekend.

Sweden 2023 will go down as the closest Breen has got yet to his maiden WRC win, but after a torrid season with M-Sport in 2022 he was simply delighted to return to form in his new team colors.


For much of the weekend though, third placed looked as if it would belong to the other Hyundai of Esapekka Lappi.

But he too suffered a similar delamination to the two leaders on Saturday morning, but with more dire consequences. Lappi’s front-right tire stripped itself of all its studs and entering the final corner of the stage, a sweeping left-hander, the rear stepped out and he became stuck in a snowbank.

Spectators eventually freed him, but he lost several minutes and could only finish seventh.

Championship chasers Rovanperä, Neuville and Elfyn Evans were embroiled in a tight tussle behind – Evans initially leading the trio after Friday.

But Rovanperä and Neuville dispatched of him on Saturday – Evans struggling with the front of his Toyota – before Evans ejected himself from the fight with a spin in the afternoon; eventually finishing fifth.

Rovanperä and Neuville’s fight went all the way though. Rovanperä did look to have Neuville covered but a spin (which he did well to only lose a few seconds from) closed the pair up and Neuville smelt blood – overtaking the world champion on Saturday’s final test.

Just three seconds split them heading into Sunday and Rovanperä narrowed that gap to 1.1s after the first stage, but a mighty drive from Neuville on the repeat pass ballooned his advantage to 7.1s – giving Hyundai the opportunity to make a team order.

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Neuville moved up to second thanks to Breen’s late check-in with the idea of gaining him an extra three championship points – but he threw it all away on the powerstage when he slid into a snowbank.

Pierre-Louis Loubet had cut an anonymous figure on Rally Sweden as he quietly looked to secure a confidence-boosting sixth place – sticking to his mission of staying out of trouble.

But the powerstage had a sting in the tail for him as Loubet suddenly lost power and then stopped, jumping out with a fire extinguisher.

Nothing proved to be on fire but Loubet continued on in electric-mode and managed to make the finish.

“I don’t know [what happened],” he said, “something stopped so we go slowly to the end. We had a bit of smoke but there was no fire.”

That’s more than could be said for Takamoto Katsuta, who had been running with the frontrunners on his debut as a fully-fledged Toyota-registered driver only to retire in the afternoon when he carried too much speed through a corner, bounced out of the ruts and hit a snowbank with enough force to roll his Yaris.

Katsuta did make it to the next stage but had to pull over with too much damage. He then restarted on Saturday and Sunday but retired again before the powerstage with what Toyota described as a technical issue.

Words:Luke Barry