Propaganda or performance? That was a key question which ran through Hyundai Motorsport’s assault on Rally Finland last week.
The common thinking is that the reality was somewhere in between. Of course, Hyundai hadn’t reinvented anything with just 10 days between the end of Estonia and the start of the Harju street stage in downtown Jyväskylä.
As he had at home, Ott Tänak went at it hard on Friday morning, but this time he was able to build something. Fastest through both runs at Laukaa, there was a six-second lead at lunchtime.
Twenty-four hours earlier, Tänak had waved away any possible hope of, well just about anything. It would, he confirmed, be a very long weekend aboard i20 N Rally1 #8.
And he was right. Except it was a long weekend from a very different perspective. It was a very long weekend out front. Leading the field, being chased hard by a pack of local heroes.
So what? Propaganda or performance?
Tänak’s emotions were real. You can’t fake the shake and his hands were genuinely shaking after most stages.
And then there was deputy team director Julien Moncet’s concerns at whether or not he would remain in the middle seat of the team principal’s press conference beyond Friday night.
It worked up a good and entirely plausible narrative: poor Hyundai was ready to be run over by Toyota.
And it had Jari-Matti Latvala and his men on the back foot through the first leg proper. The GR Yaris Rally1s took to the woods in a more moderate form. Maybe running a mil or two higher than they might have had the i20 been seen as a genuine threat.
By the time the Tänak threat was realized, they were scrapping for tens of seconds in a place where tenths of seconds are hard to come by.
Toyota technical director Tom Fowler saw it that way.
“I think, honestly, this has been a little bit of a strategy here,” he told DirtFish. “When they came here, shakedown was all about how bad the car was, the media was all about how bad the car was, of course we have to put a strategy down on the floor before we start and we have to say: ‘Where are we going to put our level of risk, both technically and driver wise?’
“I’m not saying we were influenced by it, but of course we had the feeling that we were trying to be played – but still we went with a relatively conservative package into the first day and then we had to try and play catch up and it’s very difficult to catch up here.”
It was Fowler who engineered Tänak’s first two wins in Finland. He knows as well as anybody what the Estonian’s capable of in this part of the world. And he’s quick to credit the 2019 world champion.
He added: “Ott is incredibly strong on these types of rallies, we’ve seen that.
“In Estonia he was a threat already. Obviously, he had a 10-second time penalty for the hybrid thing which helped us, also he had some difficulties with the wet weather conditions, and it was much more of a lottery than this rally has been in terms of conditions, which probably played into our hands.
“Tänak is really good on these roads; he’s a really good driver and he’s done an excellent rally. But if the car was that bad, I’m not sure he could really do that.”
There’s no doubt – and Moncet’s in complete agreement with this – Tänak brought this performance.
But would Fowler go with the propaganda if the shoe was on the other foot?