Estonian rally driver Ott Tanak, who was Palletforce’s brand ambassador during the 2015 season, was crowned 2019 FIA World Rally Champion at Rally Spain. Tanak was backed by Palletforce during a crucial season where he gained the experience and speed to be snapped up by manufacturer team Toyota Gazoo Racing. His championship victory sees him become the first ever Estonian world rally champion, breaking a 15-year grip on the title by French drivers.
Meanwhile current Palletforce brand ambassador Kris Meeke, team-mate to Tanak, was again running in a podium position after demonstrating top pace on both gravel and Tarmac surfaces on the penultimate round of the championship. However, damage to his Toyota Yaris WRC forced him to retire from day two and he ended up completing Rally Spain in 29th place.
Meeke started the only mixed-surface event in the calendar in the best possible way by going fastest on the shakedown stage on Thursday morning. When the rally started for real from its base in Salou, south of Barcelona, Meeke and co-driver Seb Marshall settled into a strong pace on gravel.
Torrential rain earlier in the week had left some sections of the gravel stages with damp patches but Meeke set a number of top times on the first day. He was slowed through stage three as the stage was completely new for him and his tyre choice, a mixture of hard and medium compounds, wasn’t perfect.
But his Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team made some set-up changes in service and Meeke improved his pace in the afternoon. A second fastest time through the final stage of the day elevated him to fourth overall, just 13 seconds from the lead.
The unique dual-surface element of Rally Spain saw team mechanics switch cars from gravel to Tarmac specification during a specially extended service after day one – changing suspension, brakes and tyres ready for the smooth, fast asphalt roads.
Despite a rogue puncture warning light during Saturday’s opening test, Meeke moved up to third after another strong performance as he chased down the Hyundai drivers ahead. However, on the next stage, he lost the rear of the Yaris WRC under braking for a left-hand corner and the car collided with an Armco barrier. The damage was too severe to continue and Meeke was out for the day.
He returned on Sunday for the final four stages and cruised through with no problems. The Yaris WRC was working exceptionally well on Tarmac and the flowing circuit-like stages in Spain suited Meeke – winner of the event in 2017.
He clawed his way back up the standings and finished just inside the top-30 after receiving time penalties for the stages missed on day two. The result leaves his Toyota team in a two-way battle for the WRC manufacturer’s championship on the final round in Australia in three weeks’ time.
Kris Meeke said: “Our pace on both gravel and Tarmac has been strong this weekend. Despite having limited experience of the gravel stages, we still finished day one close enough to challenge on the Tarmac. It was just a shame we got caught out under braking and had to retire.
“Now we move on to the final round of the season at Rally Australia. We go there with something to fight for, and it's a rally that I enjoy so we just have to go there and give it our best to see if we can claw back points and give Toyota the manufacturer's title.”