The Hyundai Motorsport driver was in dominant form on the rocky roads of the Mediterranean island and brought his i20 N Rally1 hybrid car 1min 3.2s ahead of M-Sport Ford driver Craig Breen.
Tänak’s victory in the fifth round of the championship was certainly long overdue. The last time he stood on the top step of the podium was at the CapitalBox-powered Arctic Rally Finland in 2021, 462 days ago. Since then he has struggled to find winning form in rallying, mainly due to mechanical issues.
The Estonian was on the pace from the start and traded the lead with GR rider Yaris Esapekka Lappi in Friday’s shortened opening round. A transmission problem during the final explosion left him with only three-wheel drive and he trailed the Finn by 0.7 seconds overnight.
The stage was set for a thrilling battle during Saturday’s marathon stage, which took place in the Monte Acuto area with no midday service.
However, the fight took place just 10.4km from the first Tempio Pausania test when Lappi’s car bounced back from a hard squeeze and bounced into a rock which ripped off the left rear wheel and suspension components.
Lappi’s demise left Tänak on top and he won six of Saturday’s seven speed tests, taking a big advantage on the final stage despite insisting he wasn’t pushing. He then managed to go through the last four stages and claim a 15th career victory.
“It has been very difficult, especially since the beginning of this [hybrid] generation,” Tänak said.
“We are really very happy, especially for the mechanics – they have put in an incredible effort all last year and the start of this year. This rally has not been easy and they have done a good job of getting the car.
“We made good steps. In Portugal we were really struggling and we managed to improve. Without a doubt, if the confidence is there, we can do a good job. We just have to keep working,” said he added.
Breen was thrilled to get his best result for M-Sport Ford. The Irishman finished just inside the top five on Friday after a spin and an overtake, but dropped to second shortly after when teammate Pierre-Louis Loubet punctured a front left tire.
He came under pressure from Dani Sordo before signing a handful of top three finishes on Saturday to close the gap to his Spanish rival.
Sordo, always the sure pair of hands, finally completed the podium 29.8 seconds behind. He struggled to find a comfortable setup at the start of the rally, but incremental improvements unlocked more pace from his i20 N and a water splash stall on SS16 was his only real hurdle on the trail. road.
Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his Puma back 36.4 seconds to score a career-best fourth overall. He took a mature approach after the puncture, showing pace when needed but also comfortably managing the gap to Kalle Rovanperä, who finished 53.4 seconds behind.
Rovanperä was the highest placed Toyota with a fifth place finish in what was a disappointing event for the team.
He had the dubious task of opening the road on Friday and initially languished in eighth after struggling for traction on the loose, dusty surface, but better road position on Saturday helped him climb in order .
The Finn was able to edge his Yaris colleague Takamoto Katsuta, who finished sixth, as well as Adrien Fourmaux, who crashed on SS17, and he now leads the championship with 55 points.
Gus Greensmith was seventh after a frustrating weekend. The Briton passed a right-hander on Friday and lost around two minutes while fumbling to get his Puma going again. After that he focused on getting the car home and testing different setups.
The rest of the classification was made up of cars from the support category. WRC2 winner Nikolay Gryazin edged out Jan Solans and Jari Huttunen, who completed the top ten.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville managed to salvage five points with the Wolf Power Stage win after rolling his i20 N out of the race on Saturday. Elfyn Evans also had a rally to forget after dropping out on Friday and Saturday.
The championship reaches its midpoint with a much-anticipated visit to Africa next month. The legendary Safari Rally Kenya is based in Naivasha from June 23-26.