On a rally where experience of the superfast Arctic roads was minimal across the frontline drivers, the Estonian developed a strategy to be fast out of the blocks, build a lead and challenge his rivals to play catch-up.
It worked like clockwork. Fastest time in both runs through Friday’s 31.05km Sarriojärvi speed test earned Tänak a 16.2sec advantage over team-mate Craig Breen. Kalle Rovanperä, many people’s pre-event favourite, was 20.4sec adrift.
Tänak could control his pace from that point. He pushed only when he felt comfortable and avoided the game of dare with the roadside snowbanks which ended with the inevitable time loss for those who were too brave.
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“If you come to a new event, you really never know, you have to learn while you are driving. You have to react quickly to some things and, yes, it’s probably at the beginning of the rally where you can make the biggest difference,” Tänak acknowledged.
“Because during the event, everybody will learn and react and the gaps start to get smaller and smaller. For myself, I knew I’d need to make a good difference from the beginning and then build myself some margin. After I was able to manage.”
Tänak admitted to reservations about his readiness for the rally after Hyundai’s pre-event test was held in more wintry conditions than those he came across during the recce.
“It was very snowy and a slow road and we did also a small local event in Estonia just to get some more mileage, but also that was in very snowy conditions so completely different to what we had here. I had no feeling in the car and no confidence, so we were definitely struggling,” he explained.
“These two weeks in the meantime I was probably pushing the engineers a lot as we need to find something, at least for shakedown to try two runs, and I’m sure there was a lot of work going around in the daytime. It was a big job but it paid off in the end.
“[They were] definitely not completely new but some different things. Let’s say we knew the things which were not working so we had to try the things which were working,” he added.