TÄNAK MOVES BACK INTO WORLD TITLE CONTENTION WITH VICTORY IN COPEC RALLY CHILE
CONCEPCIÓN (CHILE): Estonian’s Ott Tänak wrote his name in the history books as the inaugural winner of Copec Rally Chile, the new sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), on Sunday.
The Toyota Yaris WRC driver and co-driver Martin Järveoja led from the second timed test on Friday morning, managed their pace and conserved the car perfectly to win six of the 16 special stages and earn a winning margin of 23.1 seconds.
Tänak’s eighth career WRC win and a sixth with the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team was his first since Rally Sweden in February. He moves up to second in the Drivers’ Championship, 10 points behind Sébastien Ogier with the Power Stage win, and that means the leading trio in the championship have now taken two wins apiece so far in this enthralling 2019 season.
New championship leader Ogier claimed victories in Monte Carlo and Mexico and Thierry Neuville arrived in Chile with back-to-back wins in Corsica and Argentina before his massive crash here on Saturday.
Tänak said: “Great event and a first time here. It was a tough job and I needed to focus with a lot of energy. We were not on the limit all the time. The important thing on this rally was the result for the team and the engineers after setbacks losing two rallies in a row. Now we will keep fighting. We can do it.”
Citroën’s Ogier became locked in a fascinating duel with nine-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb for second place. Separated by 5.1 seconds at the start of the day, the gap was 4.6 before the Power Stage, but the six-time champion held his nerve to seal the three extra championship points for the runner-up spot and four more for second on the Power Stage.
The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team delivered two solid finishes with Elfyn Evans an unchallenged fourth and Teemu Suninen seeing off a final morning challenge from Citroën’s Esapekka Lappi to confirm fifth overall.
Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen could not follow up his fine result in Argentina with a top five in Chile and the Hyundai driver had to be content with seventh overall.
Toyota’s Kris Meeke fought back strongly from his roll on Saturday and managed to climb from 10th at the start of the day to eighth, the Ulsterman passing the R5 cars of Kalle Rovanperä and Mads Østberg on his way to valuable championship points.
Finland’s Jari-Matti Latvala lost his chance of claiming a podium with a drive shaft breakage on SS12 on Saturday, but he returned to action to earn three Power Stage points.
Finland’s Rovanperä had done enough on day two to see off a WRC 2 Pro challenge from Norway’s Østberg, the young Škoda Fabia R5 driver confirming the category win by the margin of 23.6 seconds. England’s Gus Greensmith and Bolivian Marco Bulacia finished third and fourth, but Greensmith had done enough to snatch the championship lead.
Rovanperä said: “It feels good. It has not been a good start to the season for us. This was a new team as well. It was a great rally and now we need to be even faster.”
The WRC 2 category win was settled in Takamoto Katsuta’s favour when Chilean driver Alberto Heller left the road at speed on SS14.
The Japanese Ford Fiesta R5 driver and British co-driver Daniel Barritt reached the finish 3min 06.1sed clear of Benito Guerra, but the Mexican’s consolation was maintaining his championship lead. Argentina’s Martin Scuncio looked set for third but did not start the penultimate stage.
Sunday – as it happened
Several additional cars retired at the end of day two of Copec Rally Chile (including Thierry Neuville), but another four (including Latvala and Chilean WRC 2 driver Felipe Rossi) rejoined the action under Rally 2 and 44 were included on the official restart list.
The Concepción and Talcahuano areas were shrouded in dense low-lying fog on Sunday morning and, coupled with a damp stage surface and fog forecast until mid-morning, it promised to be a fascinating opening Bio Bío special of 12.52km that ran on Wales Rally GB-type tracks from the river valley in the direction of the Pacific Ocean. The stage itself was actually bathed in sunshine for the most part, as the rally gor underway with the service park in Talcahuano still enveloped in fog.
Latvala was first on the road in his Toyota after the cruel driveshaft failure on SS12 and the Finn carded the target time of 8min 14.9sec. The main focus was the battle for second between the French duo of Ogier and Loeb. Loeb posted an 8min 15.7sec and managed to take four seconds from the six-time World Champion. The gap was down to just 1.1 seconds, as Meeke set the fastest time and Tänak drove at a measured pace to maintain an overall lead of 29.8 seconds.
Rovanperä saw his WRC 2 Pro lead over Østberg reduced to 32.8 seconds and Katsuta extended his WRC 2 advantage over Heller to 8.2 seconds in the slippery conditions.
Teams headed east away from the coast and the Bio Bío river valley for the 14th Lircay stage of 18.06km. The sun was penetrating through low-lying fog in places on the narrow and slightly damp special. Latvala was the first driver into the great unknown and the Finn emerged unscathed from deceptive crests and narrow tracks to card the the target of 10min 35.3sec.
Meeke was faced with a quandary of conserving his tyres for the Power Stage and potentially moving up to eighth. He managed to overhaul Østberg to grab ninth.
Ogier’s retaliation for losing the previous stage began in earnest. The Frenchman set a stunning time and managed to edge a further 4.2 seconds clear of Loeb and headed to the penultimate stage leading his great rival by 5.3 seconds and trailing Tänak by 24.6. “It was a difficult stage,” said Ogier. “There was still a lot of hesitation. You need to have a very fine line.”
The WRC 2 contest was all but settled in Katsuta’s favour when Alberto Heller left the road heavily 16km into the stage and gifted second place to series leader Guerra.
The 15.28km of San Nicolás was next on the agenda to the north of Lincay. The sun had broken through the fog and much brighter conditions were prevalent as Latvala set the target of 8min 25.4sec.
Loeb was in devastating form again and posted a time of 8min 08.6sec. That overall fastest time was seven-tenths up on that set by Ogier, who took an advantage of 4.6 seconds over his illustrious rival to the final stage showdown.
Latvala was the first of the factory drivers into the Power Stage with the sole aim of winning the special and gaining five bonus points. He stopped the clocks in 8min 00.4sec. Team-mate Meeke missed out with an 8min 01.3sec, but he had the consolation of moving up to eighth overall. Mikkelsen fell short by 4.4 seconds and a spin and delay selecting a gear ruined Lappi’s chance of winning the special.
Suninen ran up two seconds short of Latvala’s benchmark but beat team-mate Evans by two-tenths of a second. That opened the door for Loeb and Ogier to battle it out for the stage win and second overall.
Loeb delivered the first punch, but missed out on the fastest time to date by 0.6 seconds. Ogier then landed the sucker punch with the fastest time to confirm second overall by just 7.1 seconds, despite an extinguisher activating in the car mid-stage.
But Tänak saved his best until last to snatch the five bonus points for winning the stage with a time of 7min 57.3sec and that also confirmed victory in Chile’s inaugural WRC rally.
2019 Copec Rally Chile – positions after SS16 (unofficial @ 13.35hrs):
1. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Toyota Yaris WRC 3hrs 15min 53.8sec
2. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC 3hrs 16min 16.9sec
3. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (FRA) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hrs 16min 24.0sec
4. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 3hrs 17min 30.5sec
5. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Marko Salminen (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC 3hrs 19min 09.4sec
6. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Citroën C3 WRC 3hrs 19min 39.2sec
7. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger-Amland (NOR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 3hrs 20min 32.8sec
8. Kris Meeke (GBR)/Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC 3hrs 23min 27.2sec
9. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC 2 Pro) 3hrs 23min 46.3sec
10. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Citroën C3 R5 (WRC 2 Pro) 3hrs 24min 09.9sec
2019 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers – positions after round 6 (unofficial):
1. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 122pts
2. Ott Tänak (EST) 112pts
3. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 110pts
4. Kris Meeke (GBR) 58pts
5. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 55pts, etc
SS1 Kris Meeke/Jari-Matti Latvala
SS2-16 Ott Tänak
SS1 Kris Meeke/Jari-Matti Latvala
SS2 Ott Tänak
SS3 Thierry Neuville
SS4 ` Ott Tänak
SS5 Ott Tänak
SS6 Sébastien Loeb
SS7 Thierry Neuville
SS8` Sébastien Loeb
SS9 Ott Tänak
SS10 Sébastien Ogier
SS11 Ott Tänak
SS12 Sébastien Loeb
SS13 Kris Meeke
SS14 Sébastien Ogier
SS15 Sébastien Loeb
SS16 Ott Tänak