The 2019 world champion headed to Sweden with low expectations given he is yet to fully acclimatise to the Puma following his high-profile switch from Hyundai back to M-Sport this season.
Tanak had struggled for consistent outright pace in January’s season opener in Monte Carlo, where he finished fifth, but on the Swedish snow the 35-year-old showed improved pace.
The Estonian wasn’t the fastest driver in Sweden, only netting one fastest stage time across the 18 tests, but consistent speed proved key in delivering a 18.7-second win over Hyundai’s Craig Breen.
Tanak managed to come through an intense head-to-head with Breen with the only hiccup a front-left puncture on Saturday’s stage 15 that luckily didn’t result in a hefty time loss.
Tanak’s first win since Belgium last August and his first for M-Sport since Germany 2017, has elevated him to the top of the championship, three points ahead of reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera, who finished fourth in Sweden.
“It was bit of an emotional one,” said Tanak.
“We came to the rally and I wouldn’t say we were expecting too much and we were not expecting anything.
«It is quite impressive. We could understand that we were never going to be the fastest but we were able to keep our average pace quite high and thanks to that and the guys around us doing some mistakes and being a bit inconsistent, that is how we maximised our chances.
“It is a great start [to the championship] and probably more than we expected.
“For sure, we can improve a lot this year and it is up to the guys how fast we can do that, but the plan is to pick up. Hopefully, when we get things rolling, we can be a bit more competitive.”
Malcolm Wilson, Team principal M-Sport
Photo by: M-Sport
The victory ended an almost 13-month WRC victory drought for M-Sport, stretching back to last year’s Monte Carlo triumph courtesy of nine-time world champion Sebastien Loeb.
M-Sport boss Malcolm Wilson believes this victory was down to an “incredible job” from Tanak, and expects the success will lift the spirits within the team after a difficult 2022 campaign.
“Everybody has done a good job but we were not the fastest car and to be honest Ott has just done an incredible job,” Wilson told Motorsport.com.
“The way he has evolved, obviously he has a world championship under his belt, and it is very clear to see what he has brought to the team.
“It is fantastic to have a leader again and it makes everyone go up a gear within the team.
“Of course when he delivers a result like that it gives everyone the motivation, the enthusiasm and the belief.
“I’d never lost it [the belief] but it is difficult for the guys and girls involved. It is great we can achieve a result like that early on.
“After Monte Carlo, people may have been thinking, but you have to remember Ott hadn’t finished there for three years so I think he was leaving bit in the tank to be honest.
“It has been really difficult [last year] but I never lost the belief in the guys and girls and the Ford guys, and that we still had a world-beating car. Thankfully it has been proved again on this rally.”