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WRC Rally Chile

WRC Chile: Tanak masterclass delivers victory for M-Sport

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak produced arguably his best drive of the World Rally Championship season to claim a convincing victory on Rally Chile.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Tanak delivered a masterclass in speed and tyre management to score his and the British team's second win of 2023.

The 2019 world champion won seven of the 16 tricky gravel stages to complete the rally with a 42.1-second margin over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, who snatched second after late drama struck team-mate Teemu Suninen.

Tanak led after winning Friday’s opening stage before briefly dropping to third after ceding 7s to a spin in stage two. He was also hampered by a loss of hybrid boost from a heavy landing after a jump.

However, two stage wins on Friday afternoon propelled Tanak’s Ford Puma into a 4.2s lead over Suninen and, once in front, Tanak never looked back.

The key to victory was an inspired tyre strategy call to take four hard compound Pirellis ahead of Saturday’s much more abrasive gravel stages.

Tanak posted fastest times on four of the day’s six stages as tyre management became paramount.

The Estonian’s lead ballooned to 58.3s with approximately 40s of that advantage arriving in stage nine, the longest of the rally at 28.72km.

Tanak was the only driver to run four hard tyres, with the Hyundai drivers running a mix of hard and soft, while Toyota’s trio of Elfyn Evans, Kalle Rovanpera and Takamoto Katsuta were reduced to a crawl having incorrectly opted for softs.

Having mastered the art of tyre saving, Tanak was able to cruise through Sunday’s four stages to claim his first win since Sweden in February, ending a difficult run for the M-Sport team that has been plagued by misfortune.

Toyota’s tyre strategy error put Hyundai’s Suninen and Neuville into a fight for the remaining podium places, with title contender Evans hoping to recover from losing almost a minute on stage nine after running his softs into the ground.

Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Teemu Suninen, Mikko Markkula, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Suninen, competing in only his third start in a Rally1 hybrid, impressed and briefly led the rally after winning stage four.

The Finn emerged as Tanak’s nearest rival through Saturday morning as he managed his hard and soft tyre split.

He then began to lose time to Neuville with only 13.9s separating the pair heading into the final day.

Neuville’s Saturday was not without issue after suffering a puncture in stage seven followed by a loss of hybrid and an electric fault that prompted a late start to stage 12. The Belgian was also lucky to survive two wild slides.

However, Neuville pushed on Sunday, winning the first two stages before inheriting second when Suninen clipped a tree stump and damaged his front-right suspension on stage 15.

Suninen retired on the spot, which promoted Evans, who led the rally at Friday’s midpoint service, to third (+1m06.9s).

Crucially, he finished ahead of title rival Rovanpera, who headed to Chile with a slim chance of sealing a second world title.

Rovanpera’s rally was initially hampered by starting first on the road, which proved far more damaging than at other rallies due to the road surface.

He also lost 40s to Toyota’s soft tyre call on Saturday, which put him out of podium contention.

Rovanpera did win three stages on his way to fourth and claimed the maximum five points from the Power Stage. His championship lead over Evans has therefore been reduced to 31 points with two rounds remaining.

Toyota’s Katsuta produced a solid drive to finish fifth overall, with his points helping Toyota secure a third consecutive manufacturers’ crown.

Hyundai’s own constructors' bid was dealt a blow on Friday when Esapekka Lappi retired on the opening stage after clipping a concrete culvert that sent his i20 N into a series of rolls on the final corner.

M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet also retired on Friday after a frightening roll on stage three when the Frenchman was sitting in fourth overall.

Oliver Solberg came through an eventful rally to finish sixth to claim the WRC2 class win from Toksport Skoda team-mate Gus Greensmith.

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