Ott Tänak scares me. He’s one of those drivers who has the power to stop a question in its tracks. He’s got that look. The look the advises you this line of questioning isn’t really advisable. Just not sensible.
Carlos Sainz had it. Colin McRae too. Richard Burns’s look was more laconic, but no less effective. With Tänak, the eyes narrow, the face sets.
In the car, he can be even more intimidating when he turns the pace on. The Arctic Circle in February. Argentina, 2018. The list is long and distinguished where his ability to finish a rally with staggering speed startled the opposition. And scared them.
As the World Rally Championship returns to Tänak’s homeland of Estonia 10 months on from another graphic example of that exceptional pace and precision, there’s a message from Toyota. It’s not scared.
In Tartu, 2020, Hyundai shredded the formbook with a win that was supposed to be Toyota’s. The Yaris WRC’s run of victories on the fastest of fast rallies in Finland allied to the i20 Coupe WRC’s inability to even trouble the Sunday afternoon podium there marked the Toyota drivers as the ones to watch in Estonia last season.
A lack of speed and grip in the technical sections, on the smaller roads, cost Toyota dearly and opened the door for Tänak and the ever-quickening evolution of the i20.
Jari-Matti Latvala thinks they’ve called it right this time.
“The drivers were not completely happy with the car in Estonia,” he said.
“The smaller roads, used to bring the speeds down, we were not really ready for them. We tested a lot on the fast roads and this meant some of technical places were difficult and we were not at the level we were supposed to be.
“Last year was a surprise for us, we didn’t expect that.
“It’s maybe time to get our own back, but also there were rallies in the spring time that we maybe didn’t expect to win – including even the Safari – so maybe it’s been going a funny way this year.”
Relive Tänak's win on home soil
Toyota had to play second fiddle to Tänak, who claimed a dominant first win for Hyundai
But what about the menacing threat of Estonia’s sporting megastar? Can they take the local hero down?
“He is going to be very strong,” said Latvala. “His pace is better this year than even it was last year, but there have maybe been some more problems [in 2021]. He is very hungry.
“We are ready, but I would not say we are afraid.”
Elfyn Evans backs his boss, adding: “There is no question, Ott is going to be very fast. He was almost unbeatable last year. We are looking to improve and to win, but we have to see how it goes.
“We’re not scared of him and we’re not giving up before we start, not by any means. We go in there with all intent and purpose to do the best job we can.”