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Sat 30 Sep 2023

Tactical Tänak edges closer to Chile double

Ott Tänak closed in on back-to-back Rally Chile Bio Bío triumphs after dominating Saturday to build a commanding lead.

Tänak, who drives a Ford Puma Rally1 for British team M-Sport Ford, began this penultimate leg with a small 4.2-second advantage over Hyundai Motorsport’s Teemu Suninen but ended a whopping 58.3sec clear on a day which troubled title contenders Kalle Rovanperä and Elfyn Evans.

Saturday’s speed tests were contrastingly longer, twistier and much more abrasive than Friday’s. And while Tänak’s rivals leaned towards Pirelli’s soft compound rubber for the morning loop, the Estonian’s decision to take four hard tyres with him made a world of difference.

Worn down by the time they had reached the final stage before lunchtime, Suninen, Evans and Rovanperä all leaked chunks of time. Tänak, whose hard choice boasted a longer lifespan, took full advantage and extended his lead to 47.8sec by service.

Tyre preservation remained a key factor on the repeated afternoon loop but, with the hard work done, Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja were able to manage their lead over Suninen. Victory on Sunday would ensure the pair retain a 100 per cent victory record in Chile, a rally which has featured on the WRC calendar just once previously in 2019.

“It's been an extremely good day,” Tänak admitted. “It's been working in our favour and, on the stages which were bad, we had the advantage to slow down but, when it was needed, we were able to speed up. It's not finished yet, so we need to keep it going tomorrow.”

Neuville was hindered by a slow puncture in the day’s opening stage but passed Toyota man Evans late in the morning to make it two Hyundai i20 N cars inside the top three. He and Suninen were split by 13.9sec at close of play and their standings mean that, barring any changes, Toyota Gazoo Racing will be unable to win the manufacturers’ crown on Sunday.

For Rovanperä, who ended the day 39.3sec behind Evans in fifth overall, the wait for a second drivers’ title is also likely to go on.

The Finn turns 23 on Sunday and carried a commanding 33-point lead into this 11th round of the season, but requires a score 28 points higher than team-mate Evans’ if he is to celebrate the title with two rallies remaining.

Takamoto Katsuta experienced tyre troubles of his own in SS9 but remained a lonely sixth overall in another Toyota. Behind him was WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg who, along with Gus Greensmith, passed Sami Pajari in the final stage as the Škoda Fabia driver struggled with tyre wear.

Grégoire Munster lost seven minutes when he stopped to change two wheels late in the day. His time loss allowed Yohan Rossel to complete the top 10.

Sunday’s finale boasts speed tests in Las Pataguas and El Poñen, each driven twice and punctuated by a brief 15-minute service halt. The second pass of the latter forms the Wolf Power Stage where vital bonus points are up for grabs.