RACING

The good, the bad and a smiling Ott Tanak

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Best performer – Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja

When Ott Tanak and Martin Jarveoja are in the mood, they are simply untouchable. Such was the case in Sardinia as Tanak ended a drought of victories dating back to Arctic Rally Finland in February 2021. It was a dominating display highlighted by nine stage wins from the 21 Tests, which recalled timely the supreme talent that secured the 2019. world title.

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All too often in that 15-month gap between drinks there have been flickers of brilliance that were more often than not extinguished by misfortunes or reliability issues with the speedy but fragile Hyundai. In Sardinia, Tanak had his own reliability concern threatening to disrupt another encouraging race, but luckily the Estonian was given a slice of luck for a change.

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Organizers opted to cancel Friday’s final two stages due to an incident involving WRC2 competitor Laurent Battut moments after Tanak’s i20 N developed a transmission problem that would have cost him invaluable time in his battle with the then leader, Esapekka Lappi. This reprieve allowed Hyundai to solve the problem.

After taking the lead after Toyota’s Lappi crashed on Saturday’s first stage, Tanak stamped his authority on the event. Six of a possible eight stage wins followed on Saturday, with the Estonian returning to his best by opening a 46-second lead over M-Sport’s Craig Breen.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The speed has even surprised Tanak himself at times, given that the i20 N is far from the best Rally1 car on the board at the moment. Two more stage wins came on Sunday, despite pulling back to preserve their margin, which served as further proof that the Tanak of yesteryear was back and at its devastating best. In the end, he won 1m03.2s from Breen.

“We’ve taken some good steps,” Tanak said. “In Portugal we were really struggling and we managed to improve. Without a doubt, if the confidence is there, we can do a good job. We just have to keep working.”

This success was played in extremely difficult conditions for crews who had to face long days and a congested route held on rough gravel stages in scorching heat. Temperatures were further exacerbated by cabin conditions being much hotter in Rally1 cars due to their exhaust design, meaning teams were allowed by the FIA ​​to make last-minute changes to help alleviate the problem.

“These cars are like an oven,” Tanak said of the heat. “Inside it was too ‘well done’, definitely.”

Although it was an important 15th career win for Tanak, it was hugely significant for Hyundai after catching rivals Toyota and M-Sport Ford.

“It has been very difficult, especially since the beginning of this [hybrid] generation,” he continued. “We are really very happy, especially for the mechanics. They put in an incredible effort all last year and the beginning of this year. This rally has not been easy and they have done a good job of getting the car going.”

Tanak is most certainly back and could prove to be a thorn in the side of championship leader Kalle Rovanpera if this form continues.

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Honorable mentions: Pierre-Louis Loubet, Craig Breen, Dani Sordo

Apart from Tanak’s brilliance, there are several notable workouts worth mentioning. M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet arguably achieved the best in what was only his third start in the Puma Rally1.

Some raised eyebrows when M-Sport signed the Frenchman after a difficult 2021 season driving a Hyundai 2C Competition, but the 25-year-old has looked younger since his time with the British team. The 2019 WRC2 champion finished third on Friday and came within 0.8 seconds of a maiden stage win, as he led M-Sport’s charge ahead of the team’s full-time driver; Craig Breen, Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith.

Loubet would drop to fifth after a puncture, but eventually finish fourth for the best result of his WRC career. It was a popular result after his 2021 nightmare ended with a broken hip after being hit while crossing a road by a speeding car in Paris.

His team-mate Breen also delivered his best drive of the season to date to equal his career-best WRC second. This return to the podium for the first time since Monte-Carlo in January was much needed after he admitted having been “a little lost” in the two previous rallies. Breen, who also picked up a stage win, now seems to have found his groove in the Puma.

Finally, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo once again showed why he is considered a valuable pair of safe hands. The 39-year-old Spaniard delivered a mature drive in third place for the second consecutive event, on only his second start in the 2022 i20 N specification.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1 with the team

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1 with the team

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Team of the Week: Hyundai Motorsport

Hyundai’s consistent attitude paid off in Sardinia. A first victory of the Rally1 hybrid era thanks to Tanak and a double podium thanks to Dani Sordo, earned him the status of “Team of the week”.

Now, it’s fair to say that the Hyundai i20N is far from the best car in the service park, and life in the Hyundai camp is far from perfect either. As was evident with Thierry Neuville and eventual Sardinia winner Tanak, reliability issues remain an ongoing concern, with transmission issues being the latest issue. Neuville’s problem cost him two minutes ending his podium hopes.

Despite being far behind their rivals after a late signing from Rally1 and the shock departure of charismatic team principal Andrea Adamo last year, the team deserve huge credit for their work in overcoming adversity to win a victory and a third place in Sardinia.

Team assistant principal Julien Moncet told Motorsport.com the company had had a “difficult” and “complicated” month, but was clearly a relieved man on Sunday. There’s still a lot of work to be done to turn the i20 N into a regular victory contender, but there’s definitely light at the end of the tunnel.

“For sure it’s a big relief for the whole team,” said Moncet.

“We pushed really hard and we know we had a tough start to the season, since then we pushed really hard. Every time it was tough we were close but not close enough. We had a lot of problems in terms of reliability, etc.

“It’s really welcome for the team and the drivers, it’s good to find some motivation.

“We know there’s a lot of work to do and that’s clear. We need to improve on a lot of things, but for now, let’s enjoy the moment.”

M-Sport also impressed in Sardinia to score its first podium since Monte Carlo, proving the speed of its Puma, while the perceived ‘bulletproof’ Toyota showed signs of weakness as Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta had damaged radiators, while the first suffered from a rear suspension problem.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Moment of sorrow

Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi described his speed to lead the rally on Friday, but a minor mistake on Saturday’s Stage 10 had dire consequences as he crashed out of the rally. Likewise, Evans had his own story of misfortune when a hard impact in a compression ripped a hole in his radiator on Stage 3.

It never rains but it is pouring, it seems, for Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. The unlucky Belgian was the first to encounter dangerously poor visibility on Stage 2 before his i20 N defaulted to two-wheel drive due to a transmission problem that ended his hopes of solid points . In a bid to make up for lost ground, he rolled the i20 N on stage 12.

M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux was apparently on course for a solid fifth when he ran off the road on Stage 17, which made for a confusing end to the day.

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Lucky getaways

Kalle Rovanpera endured a relatively calm run to fifth after struggling to be first on the road on the loose gravel stages. He was, however, lucky to escape for a moment in stage 4 which deprived him of the majority of the rear wing of the GR Yaris.

Top tweets

Craig Breen has reminded everyone that he has a potential acting career behind the scenes once the rally career is over. Breen did his best to conceal a hybrid problem with his Ford Puma from late-scene reporter Neil Cole.

Ott Tanak has banished any myth that Rally1 cars aren’t as spectacular as the previous generation.

The Sardinia rally certainly activated it as far as the landscapes are concerned.

hot shots

Ott Tanak, Hyundai World Rally Team

Ott Tanak, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Picture by: M-Sport

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

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