Ott moved on… to Hyundai
Dust has not properly settled yet on the news of Ott Tanak finally stealing the WRC title from Sebastien(s) when another tsunami wave hit us. He (Ott) decided it is time to leave his championship winning team and move from Japan (or rather Finland) to South Korea. In other words, he will not be wearing Toyota overalls next year. Instead we will have to get used to him being dressed in Hyundai colors in 2020 and 2021.
Yes, for the next two years Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville will be competing side by side, trying to bring at least something to Hyundai (at long last) while at the same time trying to stay away from repeating a Sainz – McRae in-house wars from the Subaru era. This news shocked some and surprised others, but you have to admit it is a bit odd. Or do I say Ott? Toyota’s potential and dedication cannot be questioned and they demonstrated their speed on more than one occassion. Led by former WRC champ Tommi Makinen, Finland-based Japanese team caught up quickly after a lengthy absence from WRC. Yet, in this sport dedication and speed are often fighting against a mighty opponent – money. Put simply, what Toyota couldn’t match was amount of money required by the new champion. Hyundai simply offered more, is how I see it. But can that be enough, and should it be enough to persuade Tanak to make a decision such as this? Well, it was obviously enough. Does this mean that Hyundai has decided to reach deeeep into their pockets in an attempt to beat Toyota and others? How deep will they go and will others accept their challenge or simply give up?
We know Hyundai are stubborn (at least as stubborn as their current team boss) and Neuville is a top-class driver, capable of challenging for top positions on every rally. Yet somehow all this still did not turn into a palpable success. Is Tanak the missing link? Can he beat Neuville and finally push Hyundai towards titles and consistent victories?
What I find most interesting is the possibility of Hyundai adopting a bolder strategy of building a team (and car) around their (new) main driver, who also happens to be a world champion. I have no doubts Tanak will be main or at least main-er driver in Hyundai. This concept proved to be a successful one in many cases and even if Hyundai had most of their focus on Neuville up to this point, perhaps they could narrow it down even more for Tanak. How will Neuville take it? Will he find more inspiration in Tanak driving the same car or will he become a 2nd fiddle under Tanak’s and team’s pressure?
Also, what will Seb Ogier do? This is exciting!