Ott Tänak celebrates his second win of the season in the WRC at the Rally Chile – Teemu Suninen with late retirement – Toyota prematurely manufacturers’ world champion
Ott Tänak (Ford) has won Rally Chile, the eleventh round of the 2023 World Rally Championship (WRC), to claim his second victory of the season. The M-Sport driver put in a thoroughly convincing performance in the first WRC round in South America since 2019, winning in commanding fashion.
After 16 special stages covering a total of 320.98 kilometres, Tänak had a lead of 42.1 seconds over Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) at the finish. Third place went to Elfyn Evans (Toyota, +1:06.9 minutes) after Teemu Suninen (Hyundai) went off the track in second place on the penultimate stage and was unable to continue.
The late podium finish meant Evans reduced the gap in the WRC standings to his team-mate Kalle Rovanperä by just two points to 31. The reigning world champion finished fourth and won the power stage, where Evans finished second. With this result, Toyota defended their World Championship title in the Manufacturers’ Championship early. Takamoto Katsuta in the third Toyota finished fifth.
Wrong tyre choice sets Toyota driver back
Sixth was Oliver Solberg (Skoda), who also won the WRC2 classification. With Gus Greensmith, Sami Pajari (both Skoda), Yohan Rossel (Citroen) and Nikolai Gryasin (Skoda) four more WRC2 drivers completed the top 10.
Tänak led the rally from the start and had a thrilling three-way battle with Suninen and Evans on Friday. But on Saturday morning, the pendulum swung clearly in favour of the Estonian – thanks to a mistake by the Toyota team.
They decided to use the softer tyre compound in the morning – a miscalculation. Especially on the last special stage of Saturday’s first loop, the drivers of the Japanese factory team paid the price for this daring strategy. Rovanperä had to brake heavily to get his tyres over the distance.
Suninen becomes a tragic hero
Evans suffered two punctures, lost almost a minute and dropped from second to fourth overall. Tänak, on the other hand, who like the Hyundai drivers had relied on hard tyres, pulled clear of the leaders, followed up with two more special stage wins on Saturday afternoon and only had to save his 58.3 second lead to the finish line on Sunday.
For Tänak, it was his 19th round win in the World Rally Championship, which means he is now tied with Markku Alen for ninth place on the list of drivers with the most WRC wins.
In the duel between the two Hyundai drivers Suninen and Neuville for second and third place, the question on the final day was whether Hyundai would apply a team order and allow Suninen to pass his team-mate Neuville, who is better placed in the WRC.
Friday’s heavy crashes by Lappi and Loubet
With Suninen’s crash on the penultimate special stage, however, this question was off the table. After a suspension failure, Suninen slid off the track. This meant that his strong performance went unrewarded and the Finn became the tragic hero of Chile.
For Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai) and Pierre-Louis Loubet (Ford) the long journey to South America was not worth it. Both retired on Friday morning after heavy accidents. Lappi had already hooked his left front wheel on the inside of a left-hand bend shortly before the finish on the first special stage and subsequently rolled over several times.
His Hyundai was irreparably damaged. The same was true for Loubet’s Ford after the Frenchman had gone off the track on the third stage after a misunderstanding with co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul and had rolled over heavily. Both crews survived the wild accidents uninjured.
Toyota manufacturers’ champion – Neuville out of title race
Luxembourg’s Gregoire Munster (Ford) put in a solid performance on his first WRC start in a Rally1 car. Until the twelfth special stage on Saturday, the M-Sport driver was in a good seventh place – despite having to deal with an unusual handicap on Friday morning.
Co-driver Louis Louka had forgotten to take the “prayer books” with the write-up. These were then sent to the Belgian as photos on his smartphone, but he often could not read the announcements properly on the small display. Nevertheless, Munster had chances for a top-10 result, but two punctures threw him back by seven minutes on the twelfth special stage.
In the WRC standings, Rovanperä still holds a clear lead with 217 points after eleven of 13 rounds. His lead over Evans (186) is still a reassuring 31 points. Neuville (155), in third place, no longer has a chance of winning the title. In the manufacturers’ standings, Toyota has an unassailable lead of 466 points ahead of Hyundai (260) and M-Sport-Ford (247).
The 2023 WRC season continues in four weeks (26-29 October) with the premiere of the Rally Central Europe in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic – the first round in the history of the World Rally Championship to be held in three different countries.