Following M-Sport's first World Rally Championship victory in over a year at last week's Rally Sweden that elevated Ott Tanak to the top of the drivers' standings, Speedcafe.com's Jason Craig spoke with Jamie McMillan – the Estonian's lead engineer for 2023 – to get his views on the performance and what it could mean for the rest of the season.
“It's great to get a win under our belts as Monte 2022 feels like a long time to be honest. And there has been a lot of high moments and, to be fair, more down moments since then, so it has been tricky to keep the motivation high, especially when the results aren't coming and the car has shown some pace through the season.
“Sweden is a massive result for the team and really lifts the guys and keeps them focused on the next event and getting the best from them and the car. It certainly hasn't been easy up to now but Ott kept everyone on their toes at Sweden.
“From an engineering side, he has not been quite at one with the car up to now which we have been trying to manage through the weekend, but there is not so much we can do on the event as we don't have as many tools to play with like we did in the past, so it has been hard fought for sure, but it is nice to get that first victory and now we can switch our focus to next month's Rally Mexico.
“The pace at Sweden doesn't necessarily translate to other events on the calendar but there is quite a lot of crossover in terms of what the car does and how it feels on gravel, so we have learned a lot.
“Also, in Monte Carlo and again in Sweden, Ott has been pushing the development of the car in a slightly different direction to what we had last year, so it is interesting for us and it is what we, as a team, like to get our teeth stuck into.
“We are learning stuff all of the time with him. Of course, some of the time we can't click our fingers and fix it – there are no overnight solutions – so we have put a plan in place that allows us to sort something in the medium to long term and we are well underway with that now and the really pleasing fact in this respect is that Ott has shown the pace and is now leading the Championship despite not being comfortable in the car.
“We know we can make steps to make him more comfortable and hopefully more pace will come as a result of that. We also have to remember Ott is still learning the car whereas his title rivals have all had a year of seat time and development under their belts, so naturally his pace should get stronger as he learns and reaches the limits of what the Puma can do, so that's promising.
“We can't expect too much from the next round in Mexico to be honest because of Ott's road position – that's going to be really tricky for him being first car on the road on the Friday – but from Croatia onwards, we can really kick on.
“We have been working on some improvements to target his Tarmac complaints in the background, so we think we have made progress there and hopefully from Croatia moving forward we can be back in the hunt and really focus on putting together a title challenge.
“Leading the Championship after two events is a good start. We are all motivated to help him win the drivers' title and that is certainly the target, so we need to keep pushing and taking it one event at a time, and try and extract the most performance and the most points from every opportunity that presents itself.
“Last year, Ott left Sweden with a total of five points in the Championship and he finished second at the end of the season. This season, he leaves on 41 points. Okay, it is a long season and a lot can happen between now and Rally Japan, but we are all trying to maximise everything to get the best result possible at every event and put as many points on the board.”