Ott Tänak led WRC title rivals Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville after a fascinating opening morning at Copec Rally Chile on Friday.
Stage info: SS2/3
SS2: El Puma 1, 30.72km
El Puma is the longest stage of the rally and extremely technical. It opens on a wide hard-packed clay surface with long corners and crests, before descending over the next 7km to meet the Carampangue river. It follows the river on a medium speed road before turning away uphill on a track full of sharp and narrow bends and under a thick canopy of trees. The test becomes wider and faster as it descends towards the finish.
SS3: Espigardo 1, 22.26km
Another forest stage but less flowing and with fewer trees than the previous tests. It’s generally narrow, but fast, on a firm surface and peaks at almost 730 metres above sea level, featuring spectacular views of the Biobió region. A steep uphill section will work the cars hard.
Difficult driving conditions provided a severe test through the opening three speed tests south of host city Concepción, but Tänak took charge to head Ogier by 6.1sec with Neuville half a second behind in third.
Wet forest roads, equally slippery polished tracks, sunshine penetrating a dense tree canopy to provide a strobe-like effect in the shadows and new pace notes made in fog for the WRC’s first visit to Chile left drivers battling to adapt.
Tänak conceded a handful of seconds in the opening El Pinar special stage after overshooting a corner at a slippery bridge in his Toyota Yaris. He recovered to win El Puma and claim third in Espigado after modifying his car’s set-up to find a better balance.
“It’s going well so far but it’s tough, the roads are challenging. They are fast, slow, constantly changing and the visibility was tough with the sun and the shadows. First time in Chile is a big job,” said the Estonian, who promised better pace note for the afternoon.
Ogier made an identical mistake to Tänak, but was happier with his Citroën C3’s performance than in Argentina, following significant changes in the intervening two weeks by the French manufacturer.
Neuville’s push was interrupted when his run through El Puma was halted by a red flag issued for safety reasons. The stage was quickly restarted for others, but the Belgian was awarded a notional time after driving his Hyundai i20 slowly to the finish.
With the benefit of less worn tyres, Neuville then won Espigado, returning to service hot on the heels of Ogier.
Jari-Matti Latvala was fourth in another Yaris, 6.3sec behind Neuville. The Finn was tied for the lead after the opening stage but held his hands up to several mistakes, returning to Concepción almost 15sec to the good over team-mate Kris Meeke.
After sharing fastest time with Latvala in the opener, Meeke dropped back. “I’ve been struggling with the notes and it doesn’t feel nice in the car. I’m hesitating. It’s a combination of everything. Notes, new stages, shafts of light through the trees,” he said.
Elfyn Evans was sixth in his Ford Fiesta, 1.8sec behind Meeke and almost 10sec clear of Sébastien Loeb’s i20.
A despondent Andreas Mikkelsen was eighth, the Norwegian happy on tight and twisty sections but lacking confidence and commitment on faster roads. He was more than half a minute adrift of Loeb, while Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi completed the leaderboard.