TOYOTA’S OTT TÄNAK STAYS CLEAR OF TROUBLE TO TAKE CONTROL OF COPEC RALLY CHILE
TALCAHUANO (CHILE): Estonian’s Ott Tänak managed his pace and his temperament to perfection to take control of proceedings after an enthralling second day of Copec Rally Chile, round six of the 2019 FIA World Rally Championship (WRC).
The Toyota Yaris WRC driver and co-driver Martin Järveoja won two of Saturday’s six gravel special stages in the forests and hills between Chile’s Pacific coast and the Bio Bío River and will take a lead of 30.3 seconds into the remaining four stages on Sunday.
Tänak said: “I was able to manage my pace. These are difficult stages and the last stage, it was raining and there was a big fog in the middle. We are safe and that is important. The lead is more than yesterday, so everything is going in the right direction.”
A canny afternoon tyre choice enabled Citroën’s Sébastien Ogier to fend off a potential challenge from both Jari-Matti Latvala and nine-time World Champion Sébastien Loeb over the first two stages. But the weather changed markedly on SS12 and lost time meant that the defending champion headed into the night halt just 5.1 seconds in front of Loeb. The latter had inherited third when technical issues forced Latvala out of contention on the final special of the day after he had clipped a stone.
M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen held solid fourth and fifth positions in their Ford Fiestas and remained on course for valuable Manufacturers’ points for the Blue Oval.
Finland’s Esapekka Lappi overtook Norway’s Andreas Mikkelsen earlier in the day and was able to reach the end of the leg in sixth in the second Citroën, although seventh-placed Mikkelsen had been instructed to up his pace during the afternoon by Hyundai management, even though the goal was to reach the finish.
Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul emerged relatively unscathed from a horrific high-speed multiple roll 13.9km into the first pass through the Maria Las Cruces stage. The Belgian’s Hyundai i20 WRC got out of phase on a right kink in the road after a flat crest, clipped the side of the track on the left and cartwheeled multiple times to stop on its side in the middle of the special. The stage was red-flagged and the crew were taken to hospital in Concepción by helicopter for medical checks. Mercifully, they only suffered bruising and shock in the accident, but the i20 was extensively damaged.
Neuville said: “Nicolas and me are good. We had quite a big shock this morning. We had a proper check up and we are both fine. The pace notes said slight right, flat over crest. I was a little bit wide, hit the edge and we rolled the car. I felt we were going to hit the rear. It was quite a deep ditch. The situation is not what we wanted. If we are not first in the championship after this rally we have a better road position for the next one. We see that the new generation cars are very strong and we are really pleased for that. I did not expect to be a crash dummy, but I am happy for that. Just a few stitches in my leg, that is all.”
Kris Meeke was unfortunate to roll his Toyota on a pretty innocuous corner on the first stage of the morning. He lost over six minutes in the stage, but managed to continue with a battered car and no windscreen, the Ulsterman remarkably setting the fourth fastest times on the next two stages. With the Yaris repaired for the afternoon loop, Meeke finished the day in 10th overall.
A damper issue failed to prevent Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä from maintaining his WRC 2 Pro advantage over Norway’s Mads Østberg. His more experienced rival suffered brake issues on the first stage of the day and reached the night halt 36.1 seconds behind the young eighth-placed Finn. England’s Gus Greensmith and Bolivian Marco Bulacia continue to hold third and fourth.
Alberto Heller and Takamoto Katsuta continued to lock horns throughout the second day and the Chilean driver held a slender WRC 2 lead of 7.3 seconds over the Japanese after 11 stages. But Katsuta beat the local driver by 13.3 on the last stage of the day to earn a six-second lead. Series-leading Mexican Benito Guerra managed to overhaul Argentina’s Martin Scuncio on SS12 to regain third place.
Saturday – as it happened
Fifty-two of the original 55 starters began the first section of leg two, with Lorenzo Bertelli given the job of opening the road and carrying out potential ‘cleaning’ duties through the 20.90km of the Rio Lia stage. Overnight leader Tänak began the day from 11th, championship pace-setter Neuville was eighth and defending World Champion Ogier lined up in 10th.
It was slightly foggy first thing in the morning as Chile’s traditional Camanchaca (fog) rolled in from the Pacific Ocean. This phenomenon caused many stage delays when the Dakar Rally ran through central and northern Chile from 2009, but there were no such delays on this occasion.
The stage surface was a little slippery through the early sections before becoming more abrasive, as Bertelli carded the target of 14min 37.4sec. Meeke rolled 2.4km into the special and started moving again after four minutes with substantial damage to his Toyota. Mikkelsen visited a ditch for 15 seconds and several drivers complained about a lack of grip.
A distraught Meeke said: “I rolled in a slow corner and ran wide and there was a tree stump on the outside.”
Latvala was delayed behind Meeke returning to the stage after his crash and the Finn ceded third place to Neuville with the loss of 20 seconds. He was relying on rally officials to give him the time back later. Neuville also closed to within 1.4 seconds of Ogier with the stage win.
Rovanperä extended his WRC 2 Pro advantage over a troubled Østberg to 38.6 seconds with another category stage win after his rival lost brake fluid and rear brakes. Katsuta reduced Alberto Heller’s grip on WRC 2 to just 16.2 seconds.
The 23.09km of the Maria Las Cruces stage was next on the agenda. Loeb managed to fend off Evans’s challenge to conserve his position and move to within 4.4 seconds of Latvala. The Frenchman then climbed a position to fourth after Neuville crashed out of third place at speed over a flat crest and badly damaged his Hyundai.
Lappi passed Mikkelsen to snatch eighth and Meeke set an impressive time in his battered Toyota Yaris that was running without a windscreen. Tänak finished the stage with the second quickest time behind Loeb and extended his lead to 30.8 seconds. The special was red-flagged soon afterwards, however, while medical assistance was sent in for Neuville and his co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul.
The first run through the 16.59km of the Pelun stage preceded a return to Talcahuano for a regroup and service. The special started in bright sunshine and finished in low-lying fog on a downhill descent into the Bio Bío river valley.
Bertelli survived a gentle roll at a hairpin and Loeb reduced Latvala’s hold on third place to just 1.1 seconds after the Finn had complained of finishing the stage on worn rear tyres. Tänak was fastest and extended his lead to 34.6 seconds, while Lappi began to pressurise Suninen’s hold on sixth overall.
Despite a minor damper issue, ninth-placed Rovanperä held a comfortable WRC 2 Pro advantage over Østberg and Alberto Heller maintained his lead in WRC 2.
In drier, warmer and brighter conditions, the three stages were repeated in the afternoon. Latvala was handed back the 12.5 seconds he had lost behind Meeke on SS7 and headed into the Rio Lia stage 13.6 seconds in front of fourth-placed Loeb and just 3.9 behind Ogier.
Loeb opted for hard tyres on the drying and abrasive surface and managed to set an impressive time of 13min 45.5sec that enabled him to whittle Latvala’s advantage down to 7.5 seconds. The Frenchman ceded four-tenths to a resurgent stage-winning Ogier, as Tänak headed to SS11 with a reduced lead of 30.1 seconds. Suninen pulled further clear of Mikkelsen and Lappi to consolidate sixth behind Evans. Østberg clawed back 1.8 seconds and reduced Rovanperä’s WRC 2 Pro lead to 34.1 seconds.
Tänak clocked the quickest time in SS11 and Loeb continued to eat into Latvala’s third place with the second fastest time. The Frenchman headed to the final stage of the day just 3.9 seconds adrift of the Finn, as the fog began to descend and shroud parts of the Pelun stage.
Drizzle and fog were prevalent near the stage start as the drama continued into the day’s finale. Ogier lost time in the wet conditions, as Loeb forged on to a second fastest time and moved to within 5.1 seconds of his great French rival.
The Hyundai driver was also handed third place when Latvala agonisingly ground to a halt with potential hydraulic issues on his Yaris after hitting a stone. The Finn’s cruel retirement lifted Evans and Suninen to fourth and fifth and Lappi into sixth.
Teams will tackle four special stages on the final morning. The Bio Bío special (08.08hrs) runs for 12.52km will be used as the day’s opener and the Power Stage finale.
Sandwiched between the two passes, crews will tackle the Lircay (18.06km) and San Nicolás (15.28km) specials from 09.40hrs and 10.30hrs, respectively. The Power Stage is scheduled to bring Chile’s thrilling debut in the WRC to a conclusion from 12.18hrs.
Both the Lircay and San Nicolás tests are located to the east of the Bio Bío river, while the Power Stage starts off the 156 Highway, close to the river to the south of Concepción, and runs in a westerly direction to finish in proximity to the 160 Highway and Chile’s Pacific coast, south of San Pedro de la Paz.
2019 Copec Rally Chile – positions after SS12 (unofficial @ 17.35hrs):
1. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Toyota Yaris WRC 2hrs 41min 05.5sec
2. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Citroën C3 WRC 2hrs 41min 35.8sec
3. Sébastien Loeb (FRA)/Daniel Elena (FRA) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hrs 41min 40.9sec
4. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hrs 42min 11.8sec
5. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Marko Salminen (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC 2hrs 44min 08.5sec
6. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Citroën C3 WRC 2hrs 44min 18.8sec
7. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Anders Jaeger-Amland (NOR) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC 2hrs 44min 48.9sec
8. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC 2 Pro) 2hrs 47min 38.7sec
9. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Citroën C3 R5 (WRC 2 Pro) 2hrs 48min 14.8sec
10. Kris Meeke (GBR)/Sebastian Marshall (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC 2hrs 48min 27.4sec