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Ott Tanak Got The WRC Championship He Deserved

Illustration for article titled Ott Tanak Got The WRC Championship He Deserved
Photo: Massimo Bettiol (Getty)

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.

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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.

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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.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

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shanemorris
Shane Morris

This is an obligatory post, since I’m an infrequent Jalopnik contributor, and I’m not a full time writer: G/O Media is killing Jalopnik.

I was once a writer for Grantland, so I know what it’s like to watch corporate interests overlap what readers actually want. At some point, publishers need to get wise and remember the readers aren’t just clicks. Hitting the autoplay button won’t generate more real video views, and it’s a short-sighted way to operate a media company.

I’m lucky that I get to write as a hobby today. What that also means is I get an outsider’s point of view of how media giants operate in 2019.

I have also been a publisher, so I do know what it takes to run a website; In Earmilk’s glory days, we were doing 5M+ uniques per month — and finding the right ad partners was my job. I gave a firm “FUCK NO” to many stupid ideas, that were basically going to piss off my readers.

In 2012, I decided to let Complex be a partner with Earmilk, and it’s a decision I regret to this very day. Complex never really understood what Earmilk’s readers were, and they had no idea the sense of community we created. I saw Earmilk readers at our events in Atlanta, SF, Toronto, and LA. They knew my name, and to this very day, many of my most loyal followers know me from when I was writing about music.

When you poison your audience, they leave. I’m looking at the top of every comments section here, and I’m seeing readers reposting tweets from the GMG Union, and constantly saying, “You’re killing us.”

This is dreadful to watch. Deadspin took a blow yesterday, and it’s likely Jalopnik will be next.

Make no mistake about it, I’ll always be a fan of Patrick George, David Tracy, Raphael Orlove, Elizabeth Blackstock, Alanis King, Kristen Lee, Aaron Gordon, uhm... Bradley Brownell... I know I’m missing a few of you. ANYWAY — I hope you read this from someone who has been around a while, and knows this shit doesn’t have to be this way.

It’s sad saying this, but if this whole thing goes south, and G/O Media ends up killing what made Jalopnik great, I still hope to meet some of you at Cars and Coffee, or over a beer, or at Radwood, or a Lemons race or... whatever pile of rust David Tracy is standing next to.

Fuck G/O Media. Long live Jalopnik.