'I'm happy to be alive': Rally driver champion escapes death after HORROR 115mph smash sends car flying off mountain (VIDEO)
Astonished onlookers witnessed Ott Tanak hurtle off the side of the narrow mountain track, flip his car sideways and crash from the sky upside down at breakneck speed as the daredevil Estonian fell victim to treacherous terrain in the opening race of the defense of his World Rally Championship crown.
Followers watched the crash on the competition’s website and anxiously awaited news of Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja’s survival after seeing the scorched state of the front right wheel and bonnet of their Hyundai car.
The horror accident miraculously resulted in mere technical damage and a shaky start to the season for Tanak and Jarveoja, who praised their safety equipment for saving their lives and posted a photo of their helmets once they had been released from a precautionary stay in hospital.
“I am happy to be alive,” Tanak prophetically admitted after the second stage, later retiring from the race and living another day in his attempt to retain his 2019 title, which he won with Toyota.
“It wasn’t the start of the season that we were looking for," he added after the crash. "But fortunately we are both okay thanks to the safety equipment.”
Tanak knew there could be trouble ahead after the first day of the race, writing: “It’s good to get our first rally with Hyundai Motorsport underway, but we faced some tricky conditions on these first two stages, the second stage especially.
“We heard from the gravel crew that it was freezing with a lot of black ice but in between it seemed to freeze even more. It was challenging and my aim was just to get through without any issues, without pushing and to have a consistent run.
It wasn’t the start of the season that we were looking for, but fortunately we are both okey thanks to the safety equipment.We will fight back soon! 👊 pic.twitter.com/n5iGj9uKsy— Ott Tänak (@OttTanak) January 24, 2020
“It’s never easy in a new car; there are always unknown things and the feeling is still a bit raw. I am trying to adapt myself as quickly as I can, and it will be nice to get some sleep to collect our thoughts for Friday.”
Supporters from around the world showed their support for Tanak in the aftermath. One wrote: “Thanks to the people who built the car, you both got out unhurt. We really have to praise them, too.”
Another described the smash as “one of the scariest moments I’ve ever seen”, while a fellow fan suggested: “You may be out but you've given the world another glorious, well-documented crash that you walked away from. That's almost better than a podium.”
Teammate Thierry Neuville, who is currently second in the race in his Hyundai, also struggled with conditions he described as “very slippery and tricky” with “a lot of surprises.”
“I knew there was something when I saw Ott's lines so I lost quite a lot of time,” said Neuville. “I also struggled a bit with the handling of the car."
Welshman Elfyn Evans, who replaced Tanak at Toyota at the end of last year, currently leads the race, which continues until Monday.