Sébastien Loeb put world champion Sébastien Ogier’s second place under extreme threat in Sunday morning’s opening speed test at Copec Rally Chile.
Stage info: SS13
Bio Bio 1, 12.52km
Sunday’s opener crosses the Nahuelbuta mountain range, starting by the Biobió river and finishing close to the Pacific Ocean coast, overlooking the Golfo de Arauco. The road is narrow and twisty as it climbs under trees for the opening 6km, before becoming wider and faster as it plunges downhill through a couple of hairpins to the finish.
Loeb was 4.0sec faster than fellow Frenchman Ogier through the wet, slippery and foggy Bio Bió special stage. He cut the gap between the pair to just 1.1sec with three more stages remaining in this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
It was a demanding opening to the third and final leg for all and Loeb, driving a Hyundai i20 on gravel roads for the first time in Chile, said it wasn’t the most comfortable start to the day.
“Not a perfect stage for me. The grip was changing all the time and it was difficult to find a rhythm and be 100 per cent confident. I made some mistakes. It was difficult to do a perfect stage in these conditions,” said Loeb.
Ogier appeared powerless to repel Loeb. “I can’t do more. I tried my best. I give everything I have so we’ll see what happens,” said the Citroën C3 driver.
Rally leader Ott Tänak was sixth fastest in his Toyota Yaris as his advantage slipped back below the half minute mark to 29.8sec.
“It wasn’t easy, there was a lot of loose mud and it was quite slippery and foggy at the beginning. It’s a tough morning and I hope it gets better,” said the Estonian, chasing his second victory of the season.
Kris Meeke edged Toyota Gazoo team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala to win the stage by 0.4sec. It enabled the Briton to close to within 3.8sec of ninth-placed Mads Østberg in his bid to climb the order following yesterday’s morning roll.