ROVANIEMI, Finland: Ott Tanak held off Finnish home hope Kalle Rovanpera on Sunday to win the inaugural Arctic Rally.
The Estonian, world rally champion in 2019 when with the Finland-based Toyota team, emerged master of the demanding frozen forest circuit behind the wheel of his Hyundai.
“First, when you come to a new event it’s always a bit unexpected,” he told wrc.com.
“This weekend, we came to the home country of Toyota and we expected them to be very strong.
“The pressure was there and we knew it was going to be very complicated to take the fight. In the end we did a very good weekend — nothing too much, only one mistake yesterday (Saturday).”
Tanak, who secured his 14th career win in the top category, added: “It’s an amazing place — definitely one of the best places to have a winter rally, especially yesterday, it was so demanding.
“I think to come back here a second time would be much more enjoyable, especially when you know where you are going!”
The 33-year-old’s Belgian teammate Thierry Neuville had to settle for third after his battle with Rovanpera, the 20-year-old who takes the early lead in the championship standings.
Tanak’s winning margin after Sunday’s two closing stages, was 17.5 seconds, with Neuville 2.5sec behind Rovanpera, the winner of the Power Stage and for whom this was the best result of his young career.
“It was a superb weekend for me and Jonne (Halttunen, his co-driver), we did all that we could and we’re happy to take second,” said the Finn, claiming his second podium place after Sweden in 2020.
He moved on to 39 points in the championship, four clear of Neuville.
A further four points behind sits France’s reigning champion Sebastien Ogier who trailed in over 10 minutes adrift after driving into a snowbank on the final turn on Saturday.
Ogier and co-driver Julien Ingrassia, climbed back into their Toyota and finished the stage but with their hopes of victory dashed.
Tanak lies fifth in the fledgling rankings, on 27 points, all earned here after retiring with a double puncture from the opening Monte Carlo Rally in January.
This second leg of the championship was held without fans due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The WRC circus next sets up camp in Croatia at the end of April.