Ott Tanak made history last weekend as he became the first Estonian driver to ever win the World Rally Championship title—a title that you could argue took him an entire career to build toward. In a career laden with drastic ups-and-downs, Tanak has been both a rally-winning driver while also having been dropped from the series and then demoted, making his first title extra sweet.
Tanak took up rallying as a child and made his WRC debut in 2009. He soon signed a five-year deal with Ford that would begin in 2011, which should have offered him job security. Instead, with a best finish of sixth and his first ever podium in 2012 as the only high points in an otherwise massively disappointing run with Ford, Tanak was booted from the M-Sport World Rally Team program and essentially kicked out of WRC ahead of the 2014 season.
At that point, Tanak considered retirement, Autosport reports:
“In 2013 I had no plans to come back,” he told Autosport.
“I was retired and finished. I started my own company, I started my new job.
“Let’s say I was not pushing to come back. I drove a Group N car at home, but I did it for fun.
“This is an expensive sport and at the top level I knew it wasn’t possible just to do it a bit - so I had no plans.
But that didn’t stop him. Tanak stayed active by managing a local rally team, then returned to WRC’s support series, WRC-2, with M-Sport in 2014. It was there he stayed for a season, until he managed to prove that he was fully capable of competing in the big leagues again. His woes weren’t over yet, though. In 2015, Tanak lost control of his Ford Fiesta, sending it plummeting off course and into a lake—followed by a massively fiery crash in Portugal the following year. M-Sport just couldn’t decide whether or not they wanted to keep him around.
Luckily for Tanak, he signed a two-year deal with Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT for 2018 and 2019. He was able to dip out of the environment in which he’d struggled for most of his career and start rebuilding his reputation.
And it paid off in spades. Tanak took home the championship in 2019, battling all the while with Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville. His championship charge started slowly but continued steadily, securing nine overall podium positions and six wins during the fourteen-race season. There was only one single race where Tanak didn’t score points—a massive change from his previous struggle just to stay secured with a team.
Tanak has been rumored to be moving to Hyundai and joining championship competitor Thierry Neuville for 2020, as his Toyota contract will be expiring. Whether or not that transpires remains to be seen, but it looks as if, for the first time in Tanak’s career, he will be a sought-after asset any race team would be thankful to have.