Tanak wins for M-Sport in Sweden

Ott Tanak clinched his maiden victory for M-Sport on Rally Sweden from Hyundai's Craig Breen to end the popular Cumbrian based team's almost 13-month World Rally Championship win drought after the Estonian delivered a measured and faultless drive to win a tense head-to-head with Breen, that dominated the majority of the weekend.

In his second event driving M-Sport's Ford Puma; following his switch from Hyundai, Tanak claimed a 18.7s victory over Breen. Hyundai deployed team orders ahead of the final stage by making part-timer Breen check in late to put him behind his full-time team-mate Neuville, but a mistake from the latter in the final stage torpedoed that strategy.

Tanak scored just one stage win from 18 tests across four days of competition, but his consistency proved pivotal in coming through a tense head-to-head with Breen, to wrap up a first win since Ypres Rally Belgium last August. M-Sport's last WRC win was in Monte Carlo 2022 courtesy of Sebastien Loeb.

Tanak started Thursday's opening stage just 1.6s behind Toyota's Kalle Rovanpera. But the 2019 world champion stormed into the rally lead by the time crews returned to the service park on Friday morning. Breen, returning to the WRC in his first event of a partial season, emerged as Tanak's nearest rival. It was the Irishman that shone on Friday afternoon as the new Hyundai signing wrestled the lead away from Tanak, which he took into Saturday's stages.

Breen's bid for a maiden WRC win strengthened, with his advantage over Tanak growing to 5.7s, before Tanak fought back across Saturday afternoon with Neuville and Rovanpera sharing third spot on Saturday evening before Neuville pulled 3.8s clear. Rovanpera briefly reduced the deficit on Sunday before Neuville finally claimed the podium.

Following Hyundai team orders, Rovanpera secured fourth and only picked up three powerstage points trsiled in fifth by Toyota's Elfyn Evans after struggling for confidence behind the wheel of his GR Yaris throughout the event and the Welshman was also fortunate to survive run ins with snowbanks on Saturday.

M-Sport's Pierre-Louis Loubet making his first Sweden start in top level machinery finished sixth after hybrid issues, and a brief stoppage on the final stage, while Lappi recovered to claim seventh and won the powerstage. Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta disappeared from the rally altogether after being forced to retire on Friday due to a leaking radiator sustained from a wild roll on Stage 5. Katsuta was making his first start for the factory team and sitting fifth after winning Stage 4. He then retired from the action before Sunday's final stage due to an engine issue.

Home hero Oliver Solberg finished eighth overall after dominating the WRC2 class to start his championship campaign with a 42.3s victory over Ole Christian Veiby.

12th February, 2023