In April this year, Ott Tanak stopped the traffic. Literally. Driving a Toyota Yaris WRC through the streets of Tallinn, a police escort raced ahead of him and halted mere mortals at junction after junction. In fairness, it wasn’t that difficult. The traffic had stopped itself. Estonia was out on those streets, smartphone in collected hands, filming their man on the way to his own film debut.
The lovely people at Sterotek Film must be kicking themselves. If only they’d planned Ott Tanak: The Movie as a 2019 production, they’d have had the Hollywood finish they so desired. Actually, the movie doesn’t need the title - it’s a rollercoaster and a genuine epic without the champagne finish. This year, there was no shortage of champagne.
Tanak was the fastest man in the World Rally Championship last year. He won more stages than anybody and led for longer. He did the same this season, only more emphatically. And this time he finished the job, with a round to spare. Had it not been for electrical gremlins, powersteering issues and weak wheel rims, it’s fair to say the fight wouldn’t even have lasted as far as Spain.
Tanak was sublime this year. It’s difficult to remember a mistake of any major significance this time around. The level he sought through 2018, he found in 2019. And, quite simply, he demolished the competition. Single-minded and ice-cool, Tanak was ruthless, clinical and deadly in his ability to zero in on the prize he’s dreamed of for the last decade.
Occasional truculence with the media, a bit of a squabble with his own team and some choice words for some of the competition all built the 32-year-old into the sort of charismatic enigma sports clamour for. And all of that stuff’s great, but what really mattered most this year was Tanak’s ability to brake later, get on the gas earlier and find grip where few dared tread.
For utterly devastating evidence of just those qualities, look no further than the Spanish stage on which he was crowned champion. He didn’t need to win the Powerstage in Salou. But he did. And he didn’t just win it, he took the best of the rest to the cleaners. Sebastien Loeb? He’s no slouch on asphalt, won in Spain 12 months ago… Tanak took a second a mile out of the Hyundai man. A second per mile on a stage he didn’t have to win. That wasn’t so much a victory parade as a demonstration of a driver at the top of his game. And on top of the world.