COFFS COAST (NSW) – FIA World Rally Champion Ott Tänak will make his farewell appearance for Toyota at Kennards Hire Rally Australia later this month – and lead an inter-team title showdown – after signing as a Hyundai driver for 2020.
Less than a week after Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja secured their maiden WRC at Rally Spain last weekend, effectively beating Hyundai rival Thierry Neuville on the last stage, the Korean team last night confirmed the pair would drive the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC for the next two seasons.
The switch will add spice to the contest between Tänak’s current and future teams for the WRC manufacturers’ title at the season finale on the Coffs Coast on 14-17 November. Hyundai leads the standings with 380 points to Toyota’s 362, but the Japanese team is expected to throw everything at the fight to defend the championship it claimed in Australia last year.
On the eve of the Australia’s biggest rally event of the year, one of the most significant driver transfers in recent seasons appears likely to trigger multiple negotiations for other drivers’ off-season moves.
While Hyundai has announced the world champion’s teammates will be his 2019 title rival Neuville – the winner in Spain last weekend and Rally Australia 2017 – and Dani Sordo, it has not confirmed the futures of Andreas Mikkelsen and Craig Breen, who also drove for the team this season. Sébastien Loeb will share a third car with Sordo.
Tänak’s departure will leave a gap at Toyota, where it is understood only new WRC 2 Pro champion Kalle Rovanperä has a confirmed seat. News is awaited on current drivers Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala, while even six-time champion Sébastien Ogier has been the subject of speculation about a move from Citroën, where he has struggled with an at-times under-performing car.
At M-Sport Ford, incumbents Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen appear set to continue, although New Zealander Hayden Paddon will use his first appearance in a WRC car for a year at Kennards Hire Rally Australia to showcase his potential for a full-time drive.
Rally Australia Clerk of the Course Wayne Kenny said Tänak’s performance this season made him an attractive target for Hyundai.
“Ott has won six events this year – twice as many as any other driver – and is a thoroughly deserving World Rally Champion. Rally Australia will allow his many fans to show their appreciation of his victory for the last time while he’s in Toyota colours,” Kenny said.
“And with his move to Hyundai now confirmed, the rumour mill about other drivers’ moves in the off-season promises to make the Pedders Rally Central competitors’ service park a lively place.”
Tänak said it was an honour to be joining Hyundai.
“I have big respect for what Hyundai has accomplished. We’ve been fighting closely against each other for a number of seasons,” he said.
“They have always had a competitive team and car, so now it will be interesting to see things from the other side.
Team principal Andrea Adamo said signing Tänak was a demonstration of Hyundai’s continued commitment and ambitions in the WRC.
“We are involved in a very close fight for the title this season, and bringing Ott and Martin into the team from 2020 will enable us to continue to be at the forefront for the coming years,” Adamo said.
“He is an exceptional talent, as we have all seen, impressively quick and consistent on all terrains and he will be a real asset to Hyundai Motorsport.”