Reigning champion Ott Tänak is ready to belatedly kick-start his FIA World Rally Championship defence in Sweden this weekend after acknowledging his massive crash at last month’s opening round taught him a lesson.
Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja’s Hyundai i20 debut at Rallye Monte-Carlo ended abruptly when their car flew off the road after hitting a compression at almost 200kph. It rolled multiple times before coming to rest more than 100 metres down a hillside.
Both were unhurt and Tänak heads to round two at Rally Sweden (13 – 16 February) eager to make up ground on early pacesetter and team-mate Thierry Neuville, who bagged maximum points.
“We learned a very good lesson and we know now that each time we have to drive a new section we really need to focus more than ever before,” admitted Tänak, who won in Sweden 12 months ago.
“Since Monte, I’ve been feeling better every day. It will be important for us to get back some points and to improve step-by-step on what is our first time on a loose surface with Hyundai.”
Unseasonably mild weather in the Värmland region of Sweden and across the border in Norway means competitors face a modified four-day route. Less snow and ice covering the gravel roads than is usual adds an intriguing challenge.
“Obviously, if there will be less snow than previous years it could be quite tough to do the stages. Our tyres are very thin and very high, so they won’t work the same on gravel stages and it’s going to be really tricky,” explained Neuville.
The Belgian starts first, courtesy of his Monte-Carlo success, but whether that will be an advantage or disadvantage in the unpredictable conditions remains to be seen.