After two rounds, the Estonian provisionally leads the way from Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Kalle Rovanpera and Hyundai Motorsport’s Thierry Neuville courtesy of a fifth-place finish at Rallye Monte-Carlo and a victory last time out at Rally Sweden.
However, whereas Tanak had some idea of the car’s potential on Tarmac and snow/ice, he says he remains in the dark about what to expect performance-wise ahead of next week’s Rally Mexico.
In readiness for the Leon-based counter, the 2019 World Champion took part in a pre-event test in Spain this month, similar to what rivals Toyota did with their GR Yaris Rally1 car.
Tanak and driving-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet used the extra seat time not only to accrue extra mileage in the car but also find ways to hone both the chassis and transmission set-up for the rough conditions that make Mexico one of the most unforgiving on the calendar.
“During testing it was my very first time on gravel in the Puma Rally1 and it was very important to discover as much as possible,” said Tanak, who is set to experience the worst of the conditions by running first on the road for Friday’s eight stages.
“As most of the rallies are on gravel, we decided to do two test days in Spain. The team is working hard to keep improving, but to really understand where we are now, we need to do a gravel rally.”
In stark contrast to Tanak’s conservative assessment pre-Mexico, Team Principal Richard Millener believes the car and his two points-scoring drivers are in good shape as they head off to the north American country.
“From the drivers’ and the test team’s feedback, we are confident in the Puma’s ability to tackle the tough conditions that are typical of Rally Mexico,” explained Millener.
“Ott’s recent win in Sweden has given us momentum and we are ready to carry that into the upcoming round. We have done what we can to take on the unique challenge of the next round.
“The team’s effort and commitment in preparing each of the Puma Rally1 cars for Rally Mexico has been second-to-none as we are determined to continue on from the success of Rally Sweden.
“It is great to be heading back to Mexico this year,” he added. “The event has become a modern classic in the World Rally Championship and we have missed not going there for the past two years.”
Rally Mexico returns to the World Rally Championship roster for the first time since 2020. When it last ran as a counter, it was shortened by a whole day due to the rapidly evolving nature of the COVID-19 pandemic.