Ott Tanak was dominant throughout in FIA WRC win in Rally Chile from Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans as Toyota seals 2023 crown.
Ott Tänak led Rally Chile BioBío on Friday evening after his clever tyre strategy proved to be decisive on the opening day of the event. M-Sport Ford Puma driver Tänak set the pace in the day’s first gravel road test at Pulperia but his fortunes soon took a dip when issues caused by a heavy landing dropped him to third. As well as winding co-driver Martin Järveoja, the impact also caused minor suspension damage and the loss of hybrid boost.
Nevertheless, it was Tänak’s strategic approach to the repeated afternoon loop which helped him to reclaim the top spot. In mild spring conditions, he was the only frontrunning driver to select a tyre package consisting exclusively of soft compound Pirelli rubber, known for its superior performance but shorter lifespan.
The 2019 world champion snatched the lead from Teemu Suninen in the penultimate test and, crucially, went fastest again in the 23.32km Rio Claro finale to extend his buffer to 4.2sec overnight. Visited for the first time since 2019, Chile’s flowing roads showed little mercy to title-hunting trio Kalle Rovanperä, Elfyn Evans and Thierry Neuville.
All three reported exceptionally low levels of grip in the loose conditions but it was Evans who fared the best, completing the day 8.5sec back from Suninen in third. The Welshman trails Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Rovanperä by 33 points in the drivers’ championship and a result of eighth or higher in Chile would ensure the battle continues beyond Sunday. Road opener Rovanperä suffered a half spin in the final stage and slipped to fifth overall, ending the day 11.0sec behind Hyundai’s Neuville, who trailed Evans by 15.0sec.
Traction frustrations were the least of Esapekka Lappi and Pierre-Louis Loubet’s worries. Both drivers rolled heavily early in the day and are unlikely to restart on Saturday. Takamoto Katsuta brought his GR Yaris home in sixth place and was comfortably clear of Puma debutant Grégoire Munster, whose co-driver Louis Louka spent the morning reading pace notes from a mobile phone after accidentally leaving the paper copies in his hotel room. Sami Pajari was eighth overall and led the WRC2 category by 13.3sec from Oliver Solberg while home hero Alberto Heller completed the top 10 in a rented Puma.
Ott Tänak grew his Rally Chile Bio Bío lead to a whopping 47.8 seconds with a masterful performance on Saturday’s morning loop at the South American fixture. Tänak, driving a Puma Rally1 for British team M-Sport Ford, began this penultimate day just 4.2sec clear of Hyundai Motorsport rival Teemu Suninen but stormed clear of the field, again thanks to a clever strategy.
In contrast with Friday’s fast and open route, Saturday morning’s speed tests south of the Concepción service park were longer, twistier and much more abrasive. Tyre and speed management proved to be key – and Tänak, unlike title contenders Elfyn Evans and Kalle Rovanperä, excelled in all areas.
Second-fastest only to championship leader Kalle Rovanperä through the Chivilingo opener, the Estonian blitzed the following stage at Rio Lia by 6.8sec as his rivals slowed down to preserve their Pirelli rubber. But Tänak had also saved two brand-new hard compound tyres for the pivotal 28.72km Maria de las Cruces finale, which he duly bolted onto the car before setting the pace once again by 7.6sec.
Suninen, who carried just five tyres compared with Tänak’s six, fell to third overall behind Toyota GR Yaris man Elfyn Evans with his cautious approach to Chivilingo. But unlike Evans, who relied solely on soft compound rubber, three of Suninen’s tyres were hard. That proved to be decisive in the last stage, where Evans suffered two tyre delaminations and plummeted to fourth.
He dropped behind Suninen as well as the Finn’s i20 N colleague Thierry Neuville, who ended 13.8sec ahead of the Welshman despite a puncture early in the day. Rovanperä started too aggressively and, after winning SS7, was forced to nurse his Toyota’s soft tyres to the loop’s completion. The 23-year-old sat more than 40 seconds behind Evans in fifth overall and his hopes of wrapping up a second drivers’ world title with two rounds to spare look increasingly slim.
Just like team-mate Evans, Takamoto Katsuta was another driver to encounter two tyre delaminations in Maria de las Cruces. The Japanese remained seventh overall, however, comfortably clear of Puma debutant Grégoire Munster. Not even an early-morning spin could prevent Oliver Solberg from overtaking Sami Pajari to lead WRC2 by 16.7sec. The pair, both driving Toksport-prepared Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 cars, sat eighth and ninth overall while local ace Alberto Heller completed the top 10 despite also experiencing tyre dramas in his Puma.
M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja became Rally Chile Bio Bío winners for the second time on Sunday whilst rival team Toyota Gazoo Racing secured the manufacturers’ championship crown. Tänak, driving a Ford Puma Rally1 for M-Sport Ford, seized the lead of the South American fixture on Friday and, thanks to clever tyre tactics, built a commanding buffer which he carried through to Sunday.
Teemu Suninen went off the road in Sunday’s penultimate stage. And, while the Hyundai i20 N driver’s demise elevated team-mate Thierry Neuville to second overall, it also opened the door for Toyota Gazoo Racing to clinch the manufacturers’ title with two rallies to spare.
Suninen’s demise meant the Japanese marque needed to score four bonus points more than Hyundai, for whom Neuville was the only driver, in the Wolf Power Stage. It did exactly that, with GR Yaris stars Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans setting the first and second-fastest times respectively.
Evans’ result of third overall was enough to keep the drivers’ championship battle alive as he headed points-leading GR Yaris team-mate Rovanperä, celebrating his 23rd birthday today, by 1min 4.1sec. Rovanperä now leads the series by 31 points and could clinch the title at round 12 of 13 by scoring higher than Evans.
Almost five minutes back from the lead in a lonely fifth overall was Takamoto Katsuta, driving a similar Toyota. The remainder of the leaderboard comprised of WRC2 runners with Oliver Solberg winning the category ahead of Gus Greensmith, Sami Pajari, Yohan Rossel and Nikolay Gryazin.
Here’s WRC Rally Chile results: https://www.wrc.com/live-timing?liveTimingMenu=overall_livetiming&stage=FINAL&eligibility=Eligibility
[Note: The story is as per press release]