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WRC - Elfyn Evans holds early Rally Chile lead


2023 Rally Chile Bio Bío - Friday afternoon

Elfyn Evans won two of this morning’s three all-gravel stages to lead Hyundai rival Teemu Suninen by a slender margin on Rally Chile Bio Bío.

On its return to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar for the first time since 2019, the challenging nature of the South American fixture was underlined almost from the outset.

Esapekka Lappi rolled his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid on a fast left-hander in the very first stage before Pierre-Louis Loubet crashed his Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid on the third stage of the Concepción-based event.

Both drivers and their co-drivers were uninjured, testament to the extensive safety features adopted in the design and construction of the WRC’s headlining Rally1 category.

There were no such problems for Evans, however. Driving a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid, the Briton made a steady start to this 11th round of the season and dropped a handful of seconds through the opening Pulperia stage. He recovered quickly by winning the following pair of stages to overtake Ott Tänak, who spun on SS2, to head Teemu Suninen by 2.6s at the mid-leg service halt in Concepción.

“It's been pretty difficult with the low grip,” the Welshman said, referencing the loose stones blanketing the gravel surface. “It's really difficult to gauge how you're doing because it's so technical and the grip is so low.”

Suninen, helped by a cleaner line from his later starting position, was faster than Evans through the first stage but admitted there was more speed to come on only his third i20 N Rally1 outing in the WRC. The Finn heads Tänak by just one-tenth of a second, with the latter reporting a series of issues aboard his M-Sport Puma.

A spin towards the finish of Rere did not help Tänak’s confidence, although he was more concerned by a heavy landing from a jump earlier in the stage which winded co-driver Martin Järveoja and stopped the car’s hybrid unit from working. A suspected suspension problem added to the Estonian’s worries.

Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä faced the worst of the loose conditions as he opened the road in another Toyota. The 23-year-old trails Tänak by 10.9s after three stages.

Also struggling was Thierry Neuville, currently third in the points. A lack of traction hit the Hyundai driver’s confidence and he arrived back to service a frustratingly 21.7s off the pace. Takamoto Katsuta, one position behind, was simply unhappy with his driving.

Grégoire Munster had a stressful start to his Rally1 debut after co-driver Louis Louka accidentally left his pacenote book behind in service. Louka resorted to his smartphone, reading from pictures sent by the M-Sport Ford team, and amazingly guided Munster to seventh overall.

Eighth-placed Sami Pajari heads Oliver Solberg by just 2.4s in the battle for FIA WRC2 honours while home ace Alberto Heller completed the top 10. Like Munster, the Chilean is making his Rally1 debut in a Ford Puma.

Diego Dominguez holds a comfortable advantage over his fellow Ford Fiesta Rally3 driver Eduardo Castro in the FIA WRC3 division.

Stage four, the repeat of the day-opening Pulperia test, is due to get under way at 14h42 local time.