This is “Difficult to describe” – M-Sport boss Rich Milliner tried to explain Ott Tanak wins Rally Sweden, holding back tears of joy in his eyes. And that is really difficult to describe. Rally Sweden 2023 will go down in history as one of the most unpredictable events.
Rally Sweden 2023: what were the predictions?
As a result of Toyota’s dominance in the 2022 WRC season and the launching of the new Monte Carlo rally. It was expected that Toyota’s drivers would leave the other teams without any chance of a win. But something happened wrong. Particularly for Takamoto Katsuta and his Yaris WRC on Friday. He touched the snowbanks and literally spun off the line.
Katsuta, however, was in good health and continued to drive on Saturday. As for the other Toyota driver, Elfyn Evans took the fastest time. A journalist from WRC All Live even asked Evans if he would be back at the Olympics, while Welsh noted it had always been planned. It was too early to celebrate until Sunday. The Welshman missed his apex on a tight left-hander on Friday morning’s second stage, throwing his Yaris into a snowbank. He was thrown back onto the track and was able to continue.
Kalle Rovanperä carried a lot of Toyota’s hopes at Rally Sweden 2023. It was expected the youngest WRC champion would be in the lead since he won here in Umea in 2022. But, unfortunately Rovanperä had been struggling with snowbanks and technical issues. Kalle Rovanperä was spun and saved by an access road on Saturday. Despite setting a few stages with the fastest time, it was still not enough to battle for the victory on Rally Sweden 2023.
Hyundai takes Toyota’s heels.
While Esapekka Lappi and Craig Breen had ample time to prepare for Rally Sweden 2023, Thierry Neuville even missed the testing program due to ill health. On Saturday, Esapekka Lappi had a disaster accident. He had to wait for assistance just a few steps before finishing SS13. Finn hit a snow bank at high speed and his Hyundai i20 N landed in the wrong direction. There were more than seven minutes for fans to extract the car ending. But all the hopes the Finn had of a maiden podium for his new Hyundai team.
Therefore, Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville rushed to set the fastest time at Rally Sweden. Thierry Neuville had been holding onto the top three positions during the weekend. While his teammate Craig Breen moved to the top of the leaderboard after Friday. But regardless of the strategy Hyundai had been following among the drivers, both took the podium. Craig Breen finished Rally Finland 2023 third, and Breen second.
M-Sport Ford is the dark horse on Rally Sweden 2023.
Therefore, as early as Saturday morning it became clear that Ott Tänak was hot on Craig Breen’s heels. On Friday, he was not enticed by the attention, but sped up through frantic snowbanks. In Saturday’s nightfight, the Estonian rally driver set a night-time frenzy, as he was on course to outpace Breen by ten seconds! This is an impossible speed for M-Sport, but he made it.
Ott Tänak secured his advantage and won Rally Sweden 2023 for the true happiness of team owner Malcolm Wilson, team principal Rich Milliner and the entire M-Sport Ford team.
Ott Tänak wins Rally Sweden 2023: what is so special?
This victory has significant meaning for both teams and Ott Tänak. Thus, it had to wait for almost a year before the purple Puma of M-Sport Ford claimed the win. This kind of happy hour was last seen on the Rally Monte Carlo in 2022. Sebastien Loeb, just back from the Dakar rally, amazed fans with his victory. However, M-Sport Ford is a small team compared to Toyota or Hyundai. Winning means a lot to each team member.
Furthermore, it is extremely significant for Ott Tänak. It is remarkable that just four years ago he raced for Toyota and then switched to Hyundai. In the past two years, it seemed the Estonian rally driver was capable of much higher results. Tänak was also disappointed with the team’s strategy and policy. In recent memory, that was Rally Acropolis 2022, where the Estonian rally driver had the chance to win, but didn’t due to following the team order.
Moreover, Rally Sweden 2023 was a surprise, considering how difficult it was to pass in Sweden. As a result, it also goes down in history as one of the most difficult rally venues because of the very unfrined snowbanks. It is the mountains from the snow, the dangerous turns, and the technical issues that define Rally Sweden 2023.
The issue with delaminated tyres was also among the first technical issues that most rally drivers had to deal with.
The logical question is will Ott Tänak be available to repeat Rally Sweden success already on Rally Mexico on March 16th-19th.?