Fri 29 Sep 2023

Tänak stars on pulsating Friday in Chile

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.

“The first one and the last one [this afternoon] were extremely tough,” said Tänak, who has been without a WRC victory since Rally Sweden in February. "When it's this hard base it's moving so bad that you don't find any stability. But we had a good clean run, so no trouble."

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.

Crews journey south on Saturday to tackle the rally's longest leg. Chivilingo is up first, followed by Rio Lia - the only stage which remains unchanged from the rally's 2019 edition. Maria de las Cruces finishes within sight of the Pacific Ocean and completes the loop, which is repeated once more following service.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 8:30:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 9:30:00 AM