Hyundai’s car is no match for its rivals on asphalt. It needs work. It’s a car designed for gravel rallies. That was the message from deputy team director Julien Moncet before Croatia Rally.
You wouldn’t have thought that to be the case based on its finishing positions in Croatia. Ott Tänak had kept Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä honest until the finish, while Thierry Neuville somehow scraped together a podium despite non-stop chaos blighting his rally.
Tänak had impressively kept his foot in the door to win the rally to the very end. When it was finally Rovanperä’s turn to get a puncture, he was there to close up the gap. When it rained on Sunday morning, he was the one who took the wets and softs and stole the lead away on the penultimate stage.
He couldn’t get the job done. Rovanperä blitzed the final stage on the ‘wrong’ tires and took the win.
The top step remained elusive and Tänak remained second. But for former World Rally Championship team manager George Donaldson, it was the Hyundai driver who’d been the more impressive of the duelling leaders.
“For me, he was the driver of the rally, even above Kalle’s incredible performance and his comeback at the finish, which was amazing,” said Donaldson on the latest episode of SPIN, The Rally Pod.
“But still, that’s one of the best drives Ott’s ever done. Quite clearly nothing was just absolutely perfect but he came out and damn near won the event.
“That was an incredible performance from him and showed a level of maturity from him we’ve somehow not often seen from him. That tenacity, that stick-in ability, didn’t put a foot wrong himself as far as I could see anywhere; he just plugged away. That was a championship-winning drive.
“And let’s make no mistake, he was in just about as bad a road position as Elfyn Evans. You wouldn’t have put much between the two in terms of the options, yet he was leading the rally and Elfyn was nearly three minutes back.”
A second-place finish, assisted by tire choice, Tänak’s greatest drive to date? David Evans wasn’t buying it.
“Rarely have I disagreed with you more, George,” Evans replied. “I thought it was a good event from Ott, I thought it was a sensible event and from a maturity point of view, he drove a very good rally. You’re dead right; he needed the points, he got it to the finish.
“On Friday night, he was almost 1m30s behind. If it hadn’t been for Rovanperä’s puncture, Rovanperä would have won by two and a half minutes, probably.”
And that was the central argument to saying this was nothing extraordinary from the 2019 World Rally champion. It was a good drive, it got big points on the board – but it wasn’t the same Tänak that could leave everyone in his dust during that spellbinding run to the 2019 title.
That he was trumped by Rovanperä on the final stage despite having what was widely considered the better tires for the conditions suggested he wasn’t running at peak performance.
“In terms of a sensible drive, it was exactly that from Tänak. I don’t think at any point we saw Tänak absolutely on the doorhandles. He could have gone harder,” Evans added.
“In the first split he really should have been Kalle across there. But I thought it was good event from Ott, a sensible drive, and exactly what he and Hyundai needed. But it wasn’t one of his best for me.
“I don’t think it was by any means a championship-winning drive from Tänak. I don’t think it was even one of his top 10 drives. I don’t think it was even in his top 100 drives,” he concluded.
Was this Ott Tänak’s best drive to date or merely a solid run to a big points haul? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
And make sure you listen to the latest episode of SPIN, The Rally Pod for all the analysis of a thrilling Croatia Rally.