Estonian hotshot Ott Tänak becoming world champion is only one story from a fascinating season
This season – although it’s not actually over yet, with one round to go in Australia – has been a perfect example. From the beginning, there was a close three-way fight for the title, creating a tension that boiled over into technical protests (where rival teams tried to get a Toyota rear wing banned), gamesmanship (where Hyundai was accused of manipulating the running order of its cars to disadvantage rivals) and even personal acrimony (with an astonishingly incendiary tweet sent by Sébastien Ogier’s wife during the Rally of Spain, where she coined the hashtag ‘#shitroen’ and blasted her husband’s employer. We’ve not heard the last of this.).
The tiny nation of Estonia (population around 1,350,000) now has a new world champion in Ott Tänak. Previously, Estonia was perhaps best known for its exploits in fencing, with 17 world championship medals – although the very first Olympic gold won by Estonia after its independence in 1991 was in cycling. So wheels are obviously important over there, as well as fighting.
Maybe it’s different when he’s speaking in his native language (unfathomably complex Estonian, with its 28 native diphthongs)? No, confirms Märtin. He’s just as taciturn then.
Although he’s not going to win any public speaking contests, Tänak can drive a car mind-bendingly quickly. This year, he’s racked up six wins from 13 rallies held to date, on gravel, snow and asphalt. Even on the events he didn’t win, he was often the fastest. On the iconic Rallye Monte-Carlo, he won seven of the 15 stages run (including six in a row). And finished third.
Did he have the best car? Probably. So it’s a credit to Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Citroën’s Ogier that they pushed him so far. M-Sport Ford – which won the last two drivers’ titles with Ogier – hasn’t been at the races this year, due to a lack of both funding and luck, with Elfyn Evans forced to sit out three rallies following a back injury. Whether it’s on or off the stages, everyone eventually feels some pain on the WRC. That’s why we love it.