The Hyundai driver won nine of 21 stages in four grueling days, navigating Sardinia’s famous rough gravel stages in scorching temperatures, to take victory by 1m03.2s from M-Sport’s Craig Breen.
After Elfyn Evans’ early exit from the lead due to a water leak on Friday, Tanak found himself embroiled in a fight with Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi. Tanak briefly took the lead after Stage 4, before losing 0.7s to the Finn’s drift before Saturday.
Tanak received some luck as Friday’s final two stages were canceled moments after encountering a transmission problem that was to cost him valuable time. This reprieve allowed Hyundai to solve the problem.
Armed with a healthy i20 N on Saturday, the 2019 world champion won six of the next eight stages to regain the lead. His charge was also helped once Lappi vacated the lead on Saturday morning.
Once ahead, Tanak took victory on Sunday, adding two more stage wins, to take his first victory since Arctic Rally Finland in February last year. The success was also Hyundai’s first win of the season after a difficult year plagued by reliability issues with its i20 N.
Breen became Tanak’s closest challenger as the Irishman produced his best drive of the season to date to earn his second podium of the season, equaling his career-best WRC result.
Hyundai clinched a double podium as Dani Sordo finished third for the second rally in a row, in an event he has won twice, as he finished 1m33.0s behind team-mate Tanak.
The Spaniard, who was competing in only his second event in the third car he shares with Oliver Solberg, used his experience navigating tough conditions to complete a strong points haul for Hyundai.
M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet put in his best performance yet in the WRC top flight to finish fourth. The Frenchman initially led M-Sport’s charge and raced to third place, only to drop back to fifth when he suffered a puncture.
Loubet bounced back to fourth after Lappi’s exit, beating his previous best finish of seventh achieved in Estonia last year and Sardinia in 2020.
Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera was unable to repeat the heroics of victory since first on the road in Croatia and Portugal as the Finn struggled to clear the gravel roads, ending Friday more than a minute late.
The Toyota driver wisely took advantage of his rivals’ troubles, including a rally-ending crash for M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux on Saturday night, to finish fifth. The result, plus four power phase bonus points, extended his championship lead to 55 points over Thierry Neuville.
His Toyota teammate Takamoto Katsuta survived the brutal conditions to finish sixth after having to treat a damaged radiator on Saturday.
M-Sport’s Gus Greensmith, who lost two minutes in Stage 3 after struggling to restart his Puma after a half-lap, completed the Rally1 field in seventh position.
Hyundai’s Neuville managed to salvage the maximum five bonus points from the end-of-rally stage after another difficult weekend.
Starting second on the road, the Belgian led the rally after Thursday’s super stage but lost 15 seconds to suspended dust on Friday’s Stage 2, caused by short time intervals between the cars.
A transmission problem then cost him two minutes as he struggled with his I20 N which had lost drive to the rear wheels. Well adrift of the peloton, Neuville charged on Saturday to catch up but that stopped when he ran the i20 N in stage 12, which put him out of the race until Sunday.
After his early exit, Evans was another rider to take three points on the power stage after joining the action on Sunday after a rear suspension failure on Saturday.
Lappi also returned to action on Sunday, finishing the rally with two championship points from the final stage.