WRC: Tantalising Tänak triumphs in Sweden
Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja celebrate victory in Sweden    Credit: Getty Images

WRC: Tantalising Tänak triumphs in Sweden

Ott Tänak cruised to a dominating victory at Rally Sweden to take the lead in the World Rally Championship standings for the first time in his career

Jaquob Crooke

For someone who previously has had little success through the frozen forests of Scandinavia, Ott Tänak produced arguably the most dominant performance of his career to take maximum points at Rally Sweden.

The Toyota driver was exceptional across the entire weekend and developed an unassailable lead on the Saturday, which had partly been established due to incidents for rivals Jari-Matti Latvala and Teemu Suninen.

Latvala was hindered by a snowbank in Friday’s evening session through Torsby, whilst Suninen found his lead at the front evaporate as his M-Sport Ford hit trouble on Saturday morning, which ultimately devastated the Finn’s weekend.

But for Tänak, who had never previously won in Sweden, the three days couldn't have been more straightforward as he cruised across the 19 stages before capping off his tremendous weekend with a breath-taking showing in the final power stage, crossing the line 3.5 seconds quicker than Thierry Neuville in second.

Title contender Tänak

The Rally Sweden success means it's seven WRC career wins for Tänak and following his sublime recovery drive in Monte Carlo, the Estonian has established himself as a leading contender for the World Championship.

After initially trading places with Suninen over the opening stages, Tänak settled into an unstoppable rhythm after SS9 and with Suninen dropping out of contention after SS10, nurtured his Toyota Yaris through the remaining stages to build a comfortable lead over Andreas Mikkelsen.

When you reflect on the torrid spell that Tänak endured this time last year in the Swedish snow, his rise in the past 12 months has been a remarkable one, and he now poses a greater threat than ever before to the title-winning supremacy of Sebastian Ogier.

Mikkelsen loses out in podium battle

The events on Saturday had cultivated a three-way fight for the two remaining podium places on Sunday, as Tänak eased off into the distance.

Esapekka Lappi survived a late charge from Neuville to secure a vital second-place for Citroen, as the Hyundai driver came to within 0.4 seconds of Lappi on the splits midway through the final stage.

Lappi recovered excellently in the final section of SS19 to extend his lead over Neuville and secure second - his highest finish since his maiden victory at Rally Finland in 2017.

Although Neuville's late assault failed to acquire second place overall, the Belgian did add four bonus points for finishing second on the final power stage which confirmed his podium spot, having passed his team-mate Mikkelsen earlier on Sunday.

For Mikkelsen, it was a case of what might have been as the Hyundai driver could offer little resistance to the second place he had by the end of Saturday, having disposed of all of his fresh sets of tyres that were made available to him.

Britain's Elfyn Evans came to within touching distance of the 29-year-old after a sublime power stage performance, which moved the M-Sport Ford driver to within 2.8 seconds of fourth place by the end of the rally.

Ogier's weekend to forget

It proved to be a disastrous weekend for the six-time WRC World Champion, having suffered a premature exit on Friday after crashing into a snowbank.

Ogier was forced to restart under Rally2 rules which seen his rally disintegrate into a meaningless occasion, and although the French driver looked to the final power stage for damage limitation, his best efforts were not enough as he could only manage fourth fastest in the finale.

Elsewhere, Kris Meeke atoned for his early struggles by finishing sixth, with the Brit enduring a difficult Friday with the lack of snow and ice due to the abnormally high Swedish temperatures.

Nine-time World Champion Sebastian Loeb had been catching Meeke on Saturday, but an improved pace from the Toyota driver on Sunday held Loeb at bay.

Local favourite Pontus Tidemand's final scheduled appearance produced an eighth-place finish, with the M-Sport Ford driver's rally being hindered by a throttle sensor issue.

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