While the Estonian claimed his eighth WRC victory in Rally Chile, Hyundai's Sebastien Loeb produced his best result of the season with a podium finish.
Toyota Gazoo Racing claimed perhaps their most dominant win of the season in the inaugural Copec Rally Chile as title contender Ott Tanak and co-driver Martin Jarveoja led all but the first stage of the rally to take their second victory of the season, after Rally Sweden. The Toyota duo also scooped up maximum points in the Bio Bio 2 Power Stage (SS16), racking up all of the possible 30 points in the rally. On a side note, Chile has been the first new country in nine years to become a part of the WRC calendar, after Bulgaria in 2010. This meant completely new pace notes gave co-drivers a particularly difficult time.
Toyota Gazoo led the rally from the very beginning, as Tanak's teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke were the top-runners in SS1. Tanak and Jarveoja were placed fifth after SS1, behind M-Sport Ford's Elfyn Evans and Citroen's Sebastien Ogier. However, the Estonian's charge proved to be insurmountable as he quickly climbed to the top spot by the end of SS2, which was replete with incidents. Kris Meeke's heavy roll in the first stage, however, proved to be advantageous for Tanak as it only left him to deal with Latvala. Meanwhile, the shocker of the rally came in SS2 as previous round winner Thierry Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) suffered a big crash as their i20 drifted wide and entered a series of rolls, ruling them out of the competition immediately. They were airlifted to the hospital for check-ups. This caused an inevitable delay in the second stage.
Meanwhile, Citroen's Sebastien Ogier was close behind Tanak in second throughout the remaining stages as Tanak's teammate Latvala was bogged down by Meeke's damaged car. As a result, he found himself sandwiched between the two Sebastiens - Ogier and Loeb. As the weather took a turn for the worse on Day Two, with unexpected rain and fog descending on the rally stage, Latvala made a crucial error on one of the bends, ending up with a damaged transmission on the final stage. This ultimately left the old teammates Ogier and Loeb battling it out for the second spot. Loeb had closed in to within 1.1 seconds of Ogier on Day Three but despite putting in maximum effort, Ogier was able to defend his position successfully. This was particularly hard for Ogier as a leaking fire extinguisher in his Citroen C3 made him light-headed by the end of the final Power Stage.
However, despite all the carnage, Ott Tanak came home to a win with a lead of 23.1 seconds over second-placed Ogier and further behind by 7.1 seconds, Loeb produced his best result of the season by clinching the final spot on the podium. Fourth and fifth spots were claimed by M-Sport Ford drivers Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen while Kris Meeke, despite his heavy roll, recovered well to finish in eighth place. However, due to a post-race time penalty for removing the windscreen of his Toyota Yaris in a prohibited area, he was relegated to the tenth spot.
After Rally Chile, Sebastien Ogier regains the lead in the driver standings with 122 points, followed by Ott Tanak in second with 112 points. Thierry Neuville, who sat on top of the leaderboard until now, has been relegated to third due to his no-points finish. But, he's just two points behind Tanak at 110. After Chile, the WRC bandwagon will head back to Europe for Rally Portugal.
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