Tänak trails leader Sébastien Ogier by 64 points in fourth place as the season enters its second half on Estonia’s blisteringly fast gravel roads around second city Tartu.
Last year he led his country’s inaugural WRC fixture virtually the whole way to seal a maiden victory in Hyundai Motorsport colours and that’s the form he must recapture after a torrid opening to 2021.
Victory on snow and ice at Arctic Rally Finland has been his only success. He retired with smashed rear suspension whilst leading in both Portugal and Italy, and a misted windscreen limited him to third in Kenya last month when a threat to the leaders.
Video: Rally Estonia route
The 33-year-old lies eight points adrift of Hyundai i20 team-mate Thierry Neuville, who posted a no-score in Africa after also retiring from the lead with suspension issues. He will carry the support of Estonia’s army of passionate flag-waving fans.
“It is nice to drive at home, and we had a memorable result last year with our first-ever win for Hyundai Motorsport,” he said. “We remain hopeful that we can fight for a similar result this year, as we know the car can be fast in these conditions.”
Estonia’s gravel roads are pacy and smooth and the Baltic fixture will be one of the fastest of the season. An unusually long, hot and dry summer means the surface will be covered by slippery stones which will reduce grip for the early starters.
Craig Breen returns to Hyundai’s line-up after following home Tänak in second place last year, but both must keep a close eye on Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kalle Rovanperä, who outpaced Tänak initially at the 2020 event.
The 20-year-old Finn lives in Estonia and is hunting his first WRC win. After starting his career here, he is a fan of the fast dirt roads. Like Tänak, he has endured a barren run of late with just one top six finish in the last four rounds.
“I’m really looking forward to turn things in a better direction for us in the second half of the season, and I think Estonia can be a good event for that,” he said. “I hope we will have a good feeling and a clean rally, and then hopefully we can start to have good results again.”
Ogier and Elfyn Evans join Rovanperä in Toyota Yaris cars. The Frenchman is 34 points clear of Evans in the standings after four wins from six rounds, including back to-back successes in Italy and Kenya last month.
Teemu Suninen returns to M-Sport Ford’s line-up alongside Gus Greensmith. The Finn is another Estonia resident and replaces Adrien Fourmaux in the British team, which scored its best results of the year in Kenya in fourth and fifth.
Takamoto Katsuta drives a fourth Yaris after a career-best second place in Africa while Pierre-Louis Loubet completes the top-tier starters in another i20.
The rally opens in Tartu on Thursday evening and competitors tackle 24 speed tests covering 314.16km before Sunday afternoon’s finish.
• Full coverage from Rally Estonia will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.