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Sweden Short Review

M-Sport Surprised Everyone

…including themselves. This was the first rally for Tänak with the Puma in gravel specification. They went into the rally without any real idea of how their pace would be. It turned out that their pace was pretty good. They weren’t the fastest but they were good enough for Tänak to use his ability and experience to craft out an unlikely and very welcomed win. After a grim year in 2022, Malcolm Wilson had cause to smile again – as did everyone else in the team. Loubet had a good rally as well. He did what was expected of him. He drove at a decent pace, avoided major dramas, achieved a decent result, and gained valuable experience.

sweden short review
Ott Tänak and Malcolm Wilson on the finish podium at Rally Sweden 2023. Photo by M-Sport

Hyundai Couldn’t Convert

Hyundai had the fastest car in Sweden but they couldn’t convert that into a win. Still, a good result with a resurgent Breen in second and a slightly unfortunate Neuville (with pre-rally illness, an unfavourable starting position, and a mistake on the power stage) in third. New team boss Cyril Abiteboul gained attention with an unsuccessful attempt trying to swap the positions of Breen and Neuville. It was the right call with the drivers’ championship in mind but it didn’t work out due to Neuville’s mistake on the power stage. Lappi was also on excellent pace and on course for a podium finish. That’s until his tyre delaminated, he went off, and got stuck for 7 minutes, ruining his rally. Bad luck – he deserved much better.

Toyota On Disappointing Pace

Toyota were expected to win this rally quite comfortably but it didn’t work out that way at all. Technical Director Tom Fowler was adamant in refuting any talk of poor pace but that’’s really what it was. Neuville beat Rovanperä fair and square because he was faster, which was surprising. You wouldn’t have seen that in 2022 in a rally like this. Before the rally, there was talk of this being a “litmus test” for Evans. He was on top pace in Monte before his puncture. Would he be on top pace again, meaning that he had overcome his issues with adapting to the Rally1 car? The answer is “no”. He was never on top pace in Sweden and struggled throughout. Katsuta showed good speed before going off and damaging his car. No joy in terms of a good result, though, obviously.

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Monte Short Review

Toyota Aced It

Toyota was clearly the car to have in this rally. They won 16/18 stages, took a 1-2 and got 4 of the top 6 places. Can’t do much better than that.

Sébastien Ogier, winner of the 2023 Monte Carlo Rally. Photo by Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Ogier was sublime and always in control. Rovanperä showed incredible speed at times (esp. SS14 that was run in darkness). Evans showed such excellent pace on Friday that David Evans proclaimed on Dirtfish’s new Live Center that it looked liked he was back at the top where he belonged. His performance seemed to fade a bit after he got a puncture on SS5, though. It soured the mood, perhaps. Katsuta was pretty consistent but didn’t show anything special.

Hyundai Off With Setup

Neuville was expected to fight for the win here given his past performances. He was never close to troubling Ogier though and could barely mount a challenge against Rovanperä. He didn’t think it was an issue with the i20N’s pace but rather with setup which wasn’t optimal for the conditions. It seems the teams were not expecting this year’s Monte to basically be a dry tarmac rally. Lappi and especially Sordo struggled even more. Lappi was faster on Saturday but couldn’t find the sweet spot on other days. Sordo was simply off the pace and miserable the whole time.

Decent Start for M-Sport

It might be tempting to say that M-Sport had a terrible rally with two crashes from Loubet and niggling problems – gear change on Friday, power steering on Saturday – for Tänak. Neither of them were ever on podium pace either. We shouldn’t forget however that the Puma is completely new to Tänak. He didn’t have a decent base setup to start the rally. He got some points on the board – which he hasn’t managed in the previous three Montes – and some idea for the direction of future development. Loubet is inexperienced in the Monte and manifested that with two offs which the Boss won’t like. He did show decent speed on some stages though so it wasn’t all bad.

Next: Sweden