JAPAN - Ott Tänak completed his season with the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team with a solid consolidation of points to seal a hard-earned fourth place in the FIA World Rally Championship.
The Estonian finished sixth on Rally Japan, concluding a season highlighted by some stellar performances. Two overall victories on Rally Sweden and Rally Chile were the definitive peaks of the season with an additional two standout performances coming in Croatia and Central Europe with second and third placed finishes respectively.
Gregoire Munster returned to the scene of his maiden WRC2 victory on Rally Japan and his pace was obvious throughout Friday’s difficult conditions, putting himself in contention for RC2 victory. Two RC2 stage wins underlined Munster’s ability to handle difficult and demanding conditions on Friday. They were particularly evident at the end of the day, as Munster had put his Fiesta Rally2 into fifth overall ahead of over half of the Rally1 field.
Munster’s rally continued to grow stronger on Saturday, chipping away at the RC2 lead while sealing another three RC2 stage wins. His strong pace and form continued into Sunday with a stage win to start the day followed by two second fastest times. Munster was desperate to repeat his RC2 victory in M-Sport machinery and went into the last loop of the rally hell-bent on moving up a position. As the splits came in, nobody was faster than Munster through stage 20. His hard work and supreme pace came to a heartbreaking halt after oversteering on a slippery slow-speed right-hander, as he slid off the road with no spectators around to help him get back onto the road, ending his dream of back to back victories in Japan.
The team headed to Japan with the intention of finishing on a high in the Rally1 category after promising podium performances on asphalt throughout 2023. After being third fastest on the opening super special stage on Thursday evening, mother nature had treacherous conditions in store for Friday. Adrien Fourmaux’s Rally1 return was cut short almost immediately after aquaplaning off the road on Friday morning. Tänak adopted a more cautious approach, mitigating risk to get to the finish line but classified further down the order than he hoped.
The Estonian surged forward on Saturday though, notching six top-three times to end the day in fifth overall. Tänak took to Sunday’s roads delivering another pair of top-three times despite Monte-Carlo like conditions on Japan’s snow-lined roads.
The season ending power stage saw Tänak line up one last time to put the M-Sport Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1 through its paces. He claimed an impressive second fastest to bag an additional four championship points and once more highlight the competitive potential at the heart of the M-Sport Ford Puma Hybrid Rally1.
Richard Millener, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Principal, said:
“As the season comes to a close, the team can hold their heads up high, achieving two outright victories and numerous stage wins throughout the season. Of course, there is an element of disappointment, not being able to challenge for the overall championship victory, but winning in the WRC is not easy. I would like to take the chance to thank all sponsors, partners and fans of the team, without whom, us being here simply would not be possible.
“It is of course a shame that the end of Rally Japan marks the departure of Ott and Martin, but myself and the team would like to thank them for their never give up attitude, and the delivery of two great victories in Sweden and Chile. We wish them all the best next season.
“In Rally2 we have had a really strong year, both Adrien and Alex, and Gregoire and Louis have been showcasing the performance of the Fiesta Rally2 on all surfaces, cementing the hard work that the Rally2 team have put into developing and pushing the performance of the car over the course of the season. Their hard work is really paying off and the results are truly down to all of their hard work and dedication.
“The team now have time for a well-deserved rest, with a good group of them staying out here in Japan for a few days to explore the fantastic Japanese culture, but it will only be a few weeks before attention turns to the preparations for 2024. For now, thank you to every single one of them for all their efforts this year, and now I hope they will enjoy the time we have with our friends and families."
Ott Tanak, said:
"We had a clean day today, no trouble and brought the car home. From our side it was the best season we could have done, we gave our best shot and we are here now. When you have high expectations it’s easy to have a high a fall and that is how it feels from my side and in some ways from the team side too. We need to proud of the two wins from this year, there were some positives to take from those."
Grégoire Munster, said:
"I am sorry to the team for the mistake this afternoon, they have worked really hard to deliver so many updates to the car this year and I was trying to reflect that with my performance this weekend. We fought really, really hard and at one point it looked like the win was possible, the feeling, pace and car all felt good. It is a shame it ended the way it did but I am very happy with the pace I was able to show this weekend."