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WRC - Ott Tänak fastest on Friday in Chile


2023 Rally Chile Bioío - Friday evening

Ott Tanak

Ott Tänak leads Rally Chile Biobío this evening (Friday) after his clever tyre strategy proved to be decisive on the opening day of the FIA World Rally Championship event in South America.

The M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid driver set the pace on the day’s first Pulperia stage 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 caused minor suspension damage and the loss of hybrid boost. A spin late in the stage then led to further delay.

Nevertheless, it was Tänak's strategic approach to the repeated afternoon loop of stages which helped him to reclaim 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 performance lifespan.

The 2019 world champion snatched the lead from Teemu Suninen on the penultimate test and, crucially, went fastest again on the 23.32-kilometre Rio Claro finale to extend his buffer to 4.2s at the overnight halt in Concepción.

“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."

In use in the WRC for the first time since 2019, Chile’s flowing roads provided more than challenging for the title-hunting trio of 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 8.5s 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 11.0s behind Hyundai’s Neuville, who is behind Evans by 15.0s.

Takamoto Katsuta holds sixth overnight in the third Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid, the Japanese driver comfortably clear of Grégoire Munster, who is making his Rally1 debut in a Ford Puma. Munster’s co-driver Louis Louka spent the morning reading pacenotes from a mobile phone after accidentally leaving the paper copies in his hotel room.

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 SS3. 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.

Sami Pajari is eighth overall and leading the FIA WRC2 category by 13.3s from Oliver Solberg while home hero Alberto Heller completed the top 10 on his debut in a Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid. Pajari, who drives a Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2, also heads the WRC Challenger ranking.

Diego Dominguez leads FIA WRC3 in a Ford Fiesta Rally3, while Eduardo Kovacs heads the WRC Masters category.

Crews embark on a journey south of Concepción for three repeated stages run either side of service in the host city on Saturday. Maria de las Cruces, the third of each loop, is the rally’s longest stage at 28.72 kilometres and finishes within sight of the Pacific Ocean. Meanwhile Rio Lia, is the only stage unchanged from the 2019 edition of the rally.