A fortnight earlier – pretty much to the minute – Ott Tänak had been busy rebuilding the defence of his World Rally Championship. And he’d rebuilt it in fine style, with a commanding win at home on Rally Estonia.
Thirteen and a half days on from celebrating in Tartu he was sitting eating ice cream talking to DirtFish. The plan was to be charging through Turkey chasing back-to-back WRC wins with Hyundai.
The reality was pistachio. In a cone.
Relaxed and waiting for his broken i20 Coupe WRC to arrive back into service to begin the debrief and data analysis, the Estonian was in a playful mood.
“Give me a minute,” he said. “I’ve got to finish my ice cream. It was a good one. A good choice.”
Tänak was only too well aware where the real power lay in this interview. Questions? Bring me another…
Frozen dairy deserts done, we got down to business. Or tried to.
The world had watched as his car turned left into the Yeşilbelde undergrowth for no apparent reason. The world had also watched as he bent over and looked into the front-right wheel arch, straightening up immediately with only a brief shake of the head to co-driver Martin Järveoja confirming the deal was done. Their day finished.
What was it Tänak had seen in the arch that so quickly confirmed they would be taking no further part in proceedings?
“The problem was at the front-right,” he said. “I saw there was a problem with the steering, but the teams is going to see what it is.”
Describe the issue?
“We had a steering issue,” he offered. “It was a steering problem.”
Got that, steering problem. But how did it manifest itself? How did the car come to dive to the left after a problem on the front-right?
“Basically,” said Ott, “there was a problem with the steering. We need to analyze…”
Said with the merest hint of a grin, Tänak was only too well aware where the real power lay in this interview. Questions? Bring me another…
Was there any hint of the problem before the car turned right?
“It happened immediately, there was no previous warning,” he said. “There was no problem before everything was working fine.”
And what were you trying to fix at the right-front?
“We didn’t have the exact part we needed to repair, but I’m sure the car is possible to fix and we should be back tomorrow. I understood something happened it was out of our control and [when we went off] we hoped for a smooth stop.”
For Tänak, it’s all eyes on Sunday’s powerstage. The big five points is the best he can hope for.
“Apart from that, everything is more or less out of our hands,” he said. “I’ve finished my ice cream, that was the first thing to do, then we make a plan with the engineers after the car’s fixed and then we prepare for tomorrow.
“Of course it’s always [the] kind of sport where anything can happen. [The championship] is probably not too much in our hands anymore, but from the other hand, this rally isn’t finished either and it’s a bit too early to discuss – or to think – about the championship.”
Asking Tänak to cast his mind back two weeks draws an interesting response; after cresting the peak of the rollercoaster a couple of hours’ drive south of his family home, how was the drop into the dip that came two Saturdays on?
The cheeks are blown and thought given. He throws in the stop-gap: “I don’t know. There’s nothing much to explain I guess.”
But there’s more to come.
“Emotions,” he said, “emotions are not something that you can describe too much, I think.”
The champion’s face went someway to describe. But his last sentence said it all. This one hurt.