Rally driver Ott Tänak, driving for Toyota, has become the first Estonian to win the World Rally Championship, after successfully completing the Rally de Catalunya in Spain.
Having won Rally Sweden, Rally Chile, Rally de Portugal, Rally Finland, ADAC Rallye Deutschland and Wales Rally GB earlier in the year, Ott Tänak and his co-driver, Martin Järveoja, were confirmed winners of the WRC drivers’ championship 2019, after becoming second at the Rally de Catalunya in Spain on 27 October.
“This has definitely been a target of my life,” Tänak told in an interview given to the WRC live broadcast, straight after it was clear he had won the drivers’ championship. “My mother said me yesterday evening that ‘if Ott wants something, then he can make it happen’ and I just had to make it happen,” he said.
First WRC rally win in 2017
Tänak (32) had his first success as a rally driver on home turf over ten years ago. He won the Estonian Rally Championship in 2008 and 2009, driving for the team run by a former Estonian rally driver, Markko Märtin.
Tänak made his World Rally Championship debut at the 2009 Rally de Portugal, finishing 20th overall. He scored his first WRC points at the 2011 Rally Mexico and claimed his maiden victory at the World Rally Championship in Italy on 11 June 2017.
He raised the stakes in 2017 and 2018, finishing third in the overall driver’s standings, behind rivals Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier.
In 2019, teamed with co-driver Martin Järveoja and competing for Toyota in the World Rally Championship, Tänak won most of the races throughout the year, and by becoming second at the Rally de Catalunya in Spain, secured his first drivers’ championship win – the first Estonian to do so.
“What a journey it has been… But we did it! We are world champions!” he said on his Facebook page after the win.
A decisive rally
Before the Rally de Catalunya, Tänak was already leading the 2019 WRC drivers’ championship, having won in Sweden, Chile, Portugal, Finland, Germany and Wales earlier in the year and collecting 240 points in total.
Had he been unlucky at the Rally de Catalunya – such as a car breakdown, for example, making him unable to complete the race – his drivers’ championship lead would have been insecure.
In the end, Tänak took the second place at the Catalonia rally, and with 263 total points and just a single rally – Rally Australia – to race, before the WRC season ends, his point score became unassailable, making him the 2019 drivers’ champion.
Just nine nationalities have won the drivers’ championship
The World Rally Championship is a rallying series administrated by Paris-based Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), motorsport’s world governing body. The series, first contested in 1973, currently consists of 13 three-day events driven on surfaces that range from gravel and tarmac to snow and ice. Each rally is split into 15–25 special stages, which are run against the clock on closed roads.
The drivers’ championship was first awarded in 1977. Since then, drivers from just nine countries – France, Finland, Italy, United Kingdom, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Norway, and now, Estonia – have won the title. Sébastien Loeb (France) holds the record for the most drivers’ championships, winning nine during his career. Sébastien Ogier (France) is second and Juha Kankkunen (Finland) is third, with six and four championship wins, respectively.
By the number of total rally wins (12), Tänak is now 17th in the all-time World Rally Championship drivers’ league table.
Cover: Ott Tänak celebrating his WRC championship win (Facebook).