Ott Tänak will join Toyota’s factory effort in the World Rally Championship from next season, partnering Jari-Matti Latvala and Esapekka Lappi in the team’s three car lineup for next year.
The Estonian’s move comes as the Finnish-based team expands to three full-time cars for 2018, having run its third entry for only part of the current season with Lappi at the wheel.
Tänak has emerged as a championship contender for the first time in 2017, battling with current M-Sport team-mate Sébastien Ogier and Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville for title honours. This form made him the target of several teams, though Toyota had been chasing his signature for some time before his first WRC victories in Italy and Germany this year.
Four time world champion and Toyota team principal Tommi Mäkinen is known to have courted Tänak for some time, and was pleased to finally secure his signature.
“We’re delighted to have secured the services of Ott, having had our eyes on him for a while,” said Mäkinen. “He represents the perfect blend of youth and experience, together with the right sort of mental attitude that means he will fit into our team very well.”
“Like the Yaris WRC, Ott has exceeded all expectations this year, so I’m sure it will be a strong partnership with both speed and consistency on all surfaces.”
Tänak leaves M-Sport after six tumultuous years with the squad, having gone through a series of promotions and demotions between their factory line-up, junior line-up and WRC2 teams during that time.
“It is with a heavy heart that the team say goodbye to Ott and Martin [Jarveoja] who have been such an important part of our success this year,” said M-Sport team principal Malcolm Wilson. “There’s arguably been no other driver who I have put as much faith in – or given as many chances – but I recognised his potential straight away.”
“It’s not easy to say goodbye, but it’s time for Ott to experience pastures new and we wish both him and Martin the very best for the future.”
The arrival of Tänak spells the end of Juho Hanninen‘s time with the team, who struggled to break into the top five all season until a podium finish at his home rally in Finland, a rally in which rookie team-mate Lappi scored his first WRC win. With the team running three full time cars, and no fourth entry on the cards, Hanninen has been dropped from the team entirely, leaving him a free agent for next season.