The Estonian quickly realised he did not have the speed to match his rivals at Rally Turkey and settled for a more cautious pace in the searing heat on rocky gravel roads near Marmaris.
He was rewarded when driver after driver fell by the wayside in the gruelling conditions, climbing from ninth midway through Friday’s opening leg to head a Toyota Yaris one-two by 22.3sec from Jari-Matti Latvala.
He is the first driver to win three consecutive rounds since world champion Sébastien Ogier claimed four in a row en route to the 2016 title.
“It was so difficult. On Friday we knew if we finished in the top five or six we would be happy. Since the start it wasn’t a rally where the fastest would win, it would be the smartest. We did the whole rally without any stops and now the championship looks interesting,” he said.
Tänak moved into the lead of one of the most dramatic rounds in years on Saturday after title rivals Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier retired. He eased through Sunday’s finale and was welcomed onto the podium by Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Tänak climbed to second in the points, just 13 adrift of Thierry Neuville who gained some consolation from a barren weekend by claiming maximum bonus points in the live TV Power Stage. Ogier is a further 10 points back with three rounds remaining.
Second was Latvala’s best result of the year and Hayden Paddon claimed a similar season-best in third in a Hyundai i20. The New Zealander finished 1min 46.3sec behind Tänak.
Teemu Suninen was fourth in a Ford Fiesta, more than four minutes off the winning pace, with erstwhile leader Andreas Mikkelsen recovering from a broken front right driveshaft yesterday to finish fifth in an i20.
Ogier took a solitary point for 10th after team-mate Elfyn Evans deliberately incurred time penalties to drop behind the Frenchman.