After four frustrating days, Ott Tanak finally conceded defeat in the FIA World Rally Championship on the last stage of Rally New Zealand.
The Hyundai driver came into the third-to-last round of the 2022 championship as an outside shot at the title after a storming season by Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera.
Resigned to the fact the 22-year-old was destined to take the title, the Estonian barely cracked a smile over the course of the competition.
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He bit back at journalists throughout the weekend, asking why there was a need to find positives in the negative of his seemingly inevitable loss.
But, when the time finally came for Rovanpera to win the rally just a day after his 22nd birthday and become champion of the world crown, Tanak was gracious in defeat and even took time to pay tribute to Rovanpera’s father.
« We had a far from good weekend, » said the 2019 champion.
« This weekend, Kalle and Toyota has been very, very strong and they have beat everyone fair and square – no question at all. »
Harri was a World Rally Championship driver in the 1990s and 2000s.
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He claimed one win and 15 podiums from 111 rallies and was quick to put his son behind the wheel of a car at just six years old.
« Also, congratulations to Harri, » Tanak added.
« I mean, he’s done a great job as a father to raise up such a kid. He should be very proud as well. »
Rovanpera duly went on to win the final stage of the rally, claiming bonus points in the process to secure the crown before embracing his father at the finish line.
All told, the Finnish driver led Toyota teammate Sebastien Ogier by 34.6 seconds while Tanak was third overall and 48.5 seconds adrift.
Such was Rovanpera’s dominance this year that he claimed the championship with two rallies to spare.
Having kept a cool head throughout the weekend, the newly-crowned champion grinned midway through the final stage as the realisation of victory came closer.
Rovanpera smashed the previous record for the youngest World Rally Championship winner, which was held by Colin McRae who won the 1995 title at 27 years old.
« It’s quite a big relief, » said Rovanpera.
« After so good a season, finally, we are here. It was a small wait after a few difficult rallies.
« Biggest thanks goes to the team. Of course, they made this rocket, this reliable and fast car.
« Even after the difficult rallies, they were believing in us, giving us support, being the best. For sure, the thanks goes to the team, everybody at the workshop and in Japan.
« Also, to all my sponsors and friends who have been there since the start. That is the biggest point. »
It’s been 20 years since a driver from Finland won the WRC. Marcus Gronholm won the 2002 edition, which was his second title after his maiden 2000 triumph.
The WRC continues on October 20-23 with Rally Catalunya in Spain before concluding with Rally Japan on November 10-13.
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