Rally Chile, saturday: Tänak in control, Neuville out
Neuville and Gilsoul escaped from a monster crash
SS7: Neuville climbs to third
Thierry Neuville climbed to third overall after winning Saturday morning’s opening speed test at Copec Rally Chile.
The Belgian, driving a Hyundai i20, stopped the clocks four-tenths faster than overnight leader Ott Tänak and demoted Jari-Matti Latvala to fourth.
Latvala was delayed by Toyota Yaris team-mate Kris Meeke, who rolled and limped to the finish. The Briton dropped almost 5min 30sec, plunging out of the top 10 and with a lot of work to do to repair his battered car.
“I rolled in a slow corner. I accelerated through the corner and ran wide. There must have been a tree stump on the outside,” explained Meeke, who allowed Latvala to pass and later stopped to allow Sébastien Ogier through without hindering his progress.
Latvala dropped 20sec behind Meeke and now trails Neuville by a similar amount in the standings. “We catch Kris. He had a problem. He did not realise that we were behind him and we drove quite a long way like that. We should get the time back,” he said.
The stage was damp and more slippery than expected and Tänak was more than five seconds faster than Ogier’s Citroën C3 to stretch his lead to 27.7sec. Ogier was far from happy at the finish.
“I’m not really confident. At the rear I have no grip in the fast sections and I have understeer in the slower parts,” he said.
Elfyn Evans climbed to sixth after Meeke’s roll but the Welshman was lucky to escape unscathed after a compression threw his Ford Fiesta off the road early in the stage. Andreas Mikkelsen was another to visit a ditch in his i20.
SS8-9: Tänak leads, Neuville out
Ott Tänak stretched his Copec Rally Chile lead to more than half a minute during Saturday morning’s cluster of three special stages.
After posting second fastest time in the opening Rio Lia speed test, the Estonian was third in Maria Las Cruces before winning the final Pelún stage in his Toyota Yaris. He returned to service in Concepción with a 34.6sec advantage over Sébastien Ogier.
A relaxed Tänak, grateful that conditions in the three tests sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Biobió river were easier than yesterday, was the only top driver to choose two spare wheels.
“It was the safe choice. We’ve never done these stages before and didn’t know what was going to happen. Today is all about managing the stages. They were quite smooth but tricky, and we’re happy we’re through the first loop,” he said.
Ogier had a troublefree morning but was searching for more pace from his Citroën C3. “I’m not happy with the speed. We were not on the pace we wanted to be. It’s important to be consistent but we don’t have the speed to win the rally and that’s not good,” he said.
The battle for the final podium place was boiling up nicely, with Sébastien Loeb hitting top form. He won Maria Las Cruces in his Hyundai i20 and finished second in Pelún, just two-tenths slower than Tänak, to close to within 1.1sec of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Yaris.
Thierry Neuville climbed into third after winning Rio Lia but the Belgian crashed violently in the next test, his i20 rolling several times after a crest. He and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were taken to hospital but happily checks revealed no more than bruising.
M-Sport Ford team-mates Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen completed the top six in Ford Fiestas. Esapekka Lappi demoted Andreas Mikkelsen to hold seventh, a cautious Mikkelsen focused on scoring manufacturer points for Hyundai Motorsport following Neuville’s demise.
WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä and Mads Østberg completed the leaderboard.
Kris Meeke continued at a strong pace after his opening stage roll. He completed the next two tests with no windscreen in his Yaris, but the car handled well enough for the Briton to go fourth-fastest in both. He was 11th.
Also in trouble was Lorenzo Bertelli, who dropped more than 30sec after a slow roll in his Fiesta in Pelún.
After SS12: Tänak in control
Ott Tänak stayed on course for his second FIA World Rally Championship victory of the season after extending his lead at Copec Rally Chile on Saturday.
With one leg remaining, the Estonian led Sébastien Ogier by 30.3sec. A charging Sébastien Loeb rolled back the years to close to within 5.1sec of fellow Frenchman Ogier after a stirring drive on the fast gravel tracks.
Series leader Thierry Neuville suffered a huge blow after a violent crash in his Hyundai i20. His car was destroyed when it rolled seven times after drifting wide in a fast corner, but the Belgian and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul escaped with bruising. Neuville had been third.
Tänak won two of the six speed tests, covering 121.16km, in his Toyota Yaris, keeping Ogier at arm’s length all day.
“It was a tough day and in these kind of conditions it’s difficult to control anything. I tried to find a good rhythm but in the last stage, with fog, rain and the wrong tyres, everything was wrong. We made it through and the gap is good, but we need to focus tomorrow,” he said.
Ogier wanted more pace from his Citroën C3 during the morning. He gambled with tyre choice this afternoon and was happier with his speed, although the bad weather in the final stage allowed nine-time world champion Loeb to close in.
Loeb, driving an i20 on gravel for the first time, was the quickest driver today. He won two stages and only finished outside the top three times once as he gained in confidence to charge from an overnight sixth.
He was locked in battle with Jari-Matti Latvala but the Finn’s impressive drive came to a sad end when he hit a rock in the final test and broke his Yaris’ driveshaft. He is expected to restart tomorrow.
Elfyn Evans ended half a minute behind Loeb in fourth in his Ford Fiesta. He lacked stability in the high-speed sections but had almost two minutes in hand over young team-mate Teemu Suninen, who moved up from ninth to fifth.
Esapekka Lappi had an improved day in his C3 to claim sixth, ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen, whose confidence improved after mid-leg set-up changes to his i20.
WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä, Mads Østberg and Kris Meeke filled the leaderboard. Meeke’s fifth place disappeared in the opening test when he ran wide, struck a tree stump and rolled his Yaris. He dropped four minutes but battled on for the rest of the morning with no windscreen.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest, with four stages covering 58.38km near host city Concepción. Two runs through the Bio Bió test, the second of which forms the Wolf Power Stage and offers bonus points to the fastest five drivers, sandwich two longer tests.
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