Ott Tänak stretched his Copec Rally Chile lead to more than half a minute during Saturday morning’s cluster of three special stages.
Stage info: SS8/9
SS8: Maria Las Cruces 1, 23.09km
Maria Las Cruces runs south to north along the Nahuelbuta mountain range at one of the highest points of the Arauco area. The road is wide for most of the way with plenty of fast bends and jumps before it becomes straighter near the finish. It’s uphill from start to finish and little tree cover means crews can see the challenge ahead. A drivers’ dream!
SS9: Pelún 1, 16.59km
This is a classic forest stage of Chilean rallying. It begins with a fast section on a wide road before dropping downhill from 9km through tight hairpins to finish at the Biobió river, the country’s second biggest waterway. There are breathtaking views overlooking the river en route to the finish. Likely to be one of the fastest stages of the rally.
After posting second fastest time in the opening Rio Lia speed test, the Estonian was third in Maria Las Cruces before winning the final Pelún stage in his Toyota Yaris. He returned to service in Concepción with a 34.6sec advantage over Sébastien Ogier.
A relaxed Tänak, grateful that conditions in the three tests sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Biobió river were easier than yesterday, was the only top driver to choose two spare wheels.
“It was the safe choice. We’ve never done these stages before and didn’t know what was going to happen. Today is all about managing the stages. They were quite smooth but tricky, and we’re happy we’re through the first loop,” he said.
Ogier had a troublefree morning but was searching for more pace from his Citroën C3. “I’m not happy with the speed. We were not on the pace we wanted to be. It’s important to be consistent but we don’t have the speed to win the rally and that’s not good,” he said.
The battle for the final podium place was boiling up nicely, with Sébastien Loeb hitting top form. He won Maria Las Cruces in his Hyundai i20 and finished second in Pelún, just two-tenths slower than Tänak, to close to within 1.1sec of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Yaris.
Thierry Neuville climbed into third after winning Rio Lia but the Belgian crashed violently in the next test, his i20 rolling several times after a crest. He and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were taken to hospital but happily checks revealed no more than bruising.
M-Sport Ford team-mates Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen completed the top six in Ford Fiestas. Esapekka Lappi demoted Andreas Mikkelsen to hold seventh, a cautious Mikkelsen focused on scoring manufacturer points for Hyundai Motorsport following Neuville’s demise.
WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä and Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard.
Kris Meeke continued at a strong pace after his opening stage roll. He completed the next two tests with no windscreen in his Yaris, but the car handled well enough for the Briton to go fourth-fastest in both. He was 11th.
Also in trouble was Lorenzo Bertelli, who dropped more than 30sec after a slow roll in his Fiesta in Pelún.