The Estonian delivered a measured and faultless drive to come through a tense head-to-head with Hyundai’s Craig Breen, that dominated the majority of the weekend.
Competing in his second event driving the M-Sport Ford Puma following his switch from Hyundai, Tanak claimed a 18.7s victory from Breen. Hyundai deployed team orders ahead of the final stage by making Breen check in late to put him behind his full-time team-mate Neuville, but a mistake from the latter in the final stage wrecked those plans.
Tanak scored only one stage win from the 18 tests across four days of competition, but his consistent speed proved pivotal in coming through a tense head-to-head with Breen, to wrap up a first win since Ypres Rally Belgium last August. M-Sport’s last WRC win arrived in Monte Carlo last year thanks to Sebastien Loeb.
Tanak started the rally strongly ending Thursday’s opening stage just 1.6s behind Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera. But the 2019 world champion stormed into the rally lead by the time crews returned to the service park on Friday morning.
Breen, returning to the WRC in his first event of a partial season, emerged as Tanak’s nearest rival. It was the Irishman that shone on Friday afternoon as the new Hyundai signing wrestled the lead away from Tanak, which he took into Saturday’s stages.
Breen’s bid for a memorable maiden WRC win strengthened, with his advantage over Tanak growing to 5.7s, before Tanak fought back across Saturday afternoon.
Craig Breen excelled on his first WRC outing of 2023 but lost touch with Tanak on Saturday.
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
A lucky escape from a snowbank on Stage 12, and a tyre delamination on Stage 13, followed by a loss of hybrid power hampered Breen and allowed Tanak, who was lucky to survive a puncture on Stage 15, to reclaim the lead.
Tanak then cooly polished off Sunday’s three stages to score the win and net two powerstage bonus points. Former M-Sport driver Breen was unable to reel in Tanak over the final tests and 10 second penalty for checking in a minute late to the final stage.
Neuville won five stages but was locked in a battle with Rovanpera across Saturday and Sunday for what was the final podium spot. He made the most of his fresh tyres on Sunday to pull clear before team orders were deployed.
A mistake on the final stage almost proved costly but he managed to reach the finish in third, 20.0s adrift.
Rovanpera found opening the roads tough going as he lost his Thursday night lead and dropped to as low as fifth, but was able to fight back on Saturday. The Finn hauled himself into a fight for the final podium spot with Neuville, after Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi spun into a snowbank on Saturday’s Stage 13.
Lappi had held third from Friday up until that point before his rally unraveled when his front right tyre delaminated, which contributed to his spin at the final corner of the stage. Lappi was stranded in the snowbank for seven minutes which moved Rovanpera and Neuville into podium contention. Rovanpera was also lucky to emerge from a wild high-speed spin in the same stage.
At one point Neuville and Rovanpera shared third spot on Saturday evening before Neuville pulled 3.8s clear. Rovanpera briefly nibbled into the deficit on Sunday before Neuville finally claimed the podium.
Following the Hyundai’s team orders, Rovanpera secured fourth and only picked up three powerstage points.
Oliver Solberg donimated WRC2 and finished seventh overall.
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans completed the rally in a distant fifth after struggling for confidence behind the wheel of his GR Yaris throughout. The Welshman was also fortunate to survive run ins with snowbanks on Saturday.
M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet making his first Sweden start in top level machinery finished sixth after hybrid issues, and a brief stoppage on the final stage, while Lappi recovered to claim seventh and won the powerstage.
Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta disappeared from the rally altogether. The Japanese was forced to retire from Friday’s action due to a leaking radiator sustained from a wild roll on Stage 5.
The roll happened while Katsuta, making his first start for the factory team, was sitting fifth after winning Stage 4. He then was pulled from the action before Sunday’s final stage due to an engine issue.
Home hero Oliver Solberg finished eighth overall after dominating the WRC2 class to start his championship campaign with a 42.3s victory over Ole Christian Veiby.