Copec Rally Chile made a dazzling debut in the WRC last week. We look back at the newcomer that became an instant favourite with the championship regulars.
Driver of the Rally
We shouldn’t have been surprised. Why would we doubt that a nine-time world champion, with 79 WRC victories to his name, would be anywhere other than fighting at the front?
Sébastien Loeb made light of the fact this was his first gravel event in a Hyundai i20 after just a single day’s dirt road testing - a long, long way away from Chile. A rubbish shakedown, by his own admission, was followed by a bedding in period on Friday morning.
He was then sublime on Saturday, winning two stages and fastest of all across the six speed tests, to pounce onto the heels of Sébastien Ogier.
He narrowly missed out on displacing his fellow countryman in their podium fight. But Loeb’s drive eclipsed that of rally winner Ott Tänak, and it’s fair to say the Estonian wasn’t too shabby. Not bad for a 45-year-old casual worker in the WRC!
Quote of the Rally
Jari-Matti Latvala was frustrated. On target to win Friday’s penultimate Espigado test and close on second-placed Ogier, he stalled his Toyota Yaris late in the stage. At the finish he threw his helmet into the back of the car and buried his head in his hands before sharing his irritation.
“I am a stupid guy, really, really stupid. How I can be so stupid? I stalled in the junction. I do not understand. I am really, really annoyed. Incredible. I have no words how I can be so stupid.” Classic Latvala!
Surprise of the Rally
The perceived thinking was that the WRC 2 fight would be a dust-up between Chile’s Heller brothers, Pedro and Alberto. Not so.
Pedro, winner in Argentina a couple of weeks earlier, was out of the battle after a big roll in SS1. Alberto led for the first day, but fell behind Takamoto Katsuta early in the second leg.
He pledged it would be all or nothing on the final day in his bid to regain top spot. It was nothing. He, too, rolled his Ford Fiesta, leaving the young Japanese driver to score his second support category win.
Ott Tänak led by a handful of seconds after Friday’s opening batch of stages. But he wasn’t happy. He overshot a corner in the opener and was at odds with the balance of his Yaris.
Lunchtime service in Concepción changed things big style. While the Toyota Gazoo engineers cured the mix of oversteer and understeer ahead of drier afternoon roads that offered more grip, Ott worked on his pace notes made in thick fog three days before.
The result? Two fastest times and a lead that ballooned from 6.1sec to 23.1sec. He was in command and had the luxury of measuring his pace for the final two days.