The Estonian lost a final stage shootout with Kalle Rovanperä on Sunday to finish second at the Croatia Rally, but accurate tyre selections in the mixed conditions enabled him to take the fight to the closing kilometres.
His choice of Pirelli’s soft compound P Zero and wet weather Cinturato tyres paid dividends during a penultimate stage downpour. He was fastest by 16.3sec to snatch a 1.4sec lead from Rovanperä, who had topped the rankings since the start.
Rovanperä fought back in drier conditions on the closing Wolf Power Stage. In an epic finish the Finn regained the lead to defeat Tänak by 4.3sec. Second represented the best result of the season for the Hyundai i20 N pilot after a troubled start to the campaign.
Video: Croatia Rally review
“We were really clever with our tyre choice and with the way we managed the weather,” he said. “The team did a really good job with that on Sunday and all the rally, we were always on the right tyres compared with our rivals.”
“Second is a positive result,” he added. “It’s more than we were expecting. We can see we are still missing the sort of pace Kalle has and we know that’s where we have to work, but in the end this weekend played out well for us.”
Tänak acknowledged his final leg tyre choice early on Sunday morning represented a gamble, as rival teams had no indication of the deluge to come.
“Our guy [weather expert] did a good job. Even this morning he wasn’t sure about the rain, it was more like a chance and behind me there was a big gap [in time on the leaderboard]. It didn’t feel like I was risking too much. Personally myself, I wanted to go for that,” he added.
“After the first stage it was so bad I was starting to worry it [the tyres] would last the loop with Thierry and Craig behind, but as we can see it turned out wonderfully on the next stage. It was quite incredible how the weather was.”
While Tänak must wait for his first win since the Arctic Rally in February 2021, Hyundai Motorsport moved up to second in the manufacturers’ championship. Thierry Neuville backed up Tänak with a drama-filled third place.