Ott Tänak (Toyota) conquered the Rally Chile 2019, sixth round of the WRC Calendar, this past Sunday with a 23,1-second advantage over Sebastien Ogier (Citroën) and a 30,2 one over Sebastien Loeb (Hyundai). With this triumph, the Estonian driver raises to number two in the standings at just ten points from new leader Ogier.
The outcome of the race was largely due to the retirement on Saturday of Thierry Neuville when the car that he was driving together with co-pilot Nicolas Gilsoul suffered a horrifying accident. Thankfully they were both unharmed but were unable to continue on Sunday. It was goodbye to the race and to the leadership.
Tänak’s first warning
The rally started on Friday as drivers set out to compete in the completely uncharted territory of the first edition of the Rally Chile. The race, which some drivers have described as a mix between Wales and Australia, was a step into the unknown. Toyota, initially with Keis Meeke and later on with Ott Tänak, asserted its determination and led the race form the start.
The Estonian driver was eager to put an end to his dry spell (Corsica and Argentina). He hadn’t been up the podium since Mexico but his efforts paid off and he finished the day with a 20-second advantage. Sebastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville were waiting for a chance.
Neuville’s horrible accident
The French driver from Citroën and the Belgian from Hyundai were engaged in a battle for the second position until the Special #8 when Neuville crashed straight into a slope. The i20 Coupe rolled several times for some agonizing seconds.
Despite the violence of the crash, both driver and co-pilot -Neuville and Gilsoul– came out of the wreck unaided. Unfortunately, they had to bid goodbye to the Rally Chile and to their provisional lead of the standings.
Ogier and Loeb: A battle between two ‘old friends’
Neuville’s misfortune meant that Ogier was now freed of his rival for second place. Similarly, Ogier needed not to worry any more about Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala behind who had run into some troubles of their own during Saturday.
The driver from Gap now had a free run ahead of him and was left untroubled from behind. But his plans didn’t count on the arrival of an unexpected contestant. His sempiternal enemy, Loeb, would manage to cut the distance with him to just 5,1 seconds by the end of the day. A bitter fight between the two compatriots and historic rivals was guaranteed for the day after. As per Tänak, he was comfortably settled on the lead and enjoying the view.
The final battle is for Tänak
By the start of the last day of the Rally Chile, Tänak had his victory pretty much guaranteed but things were heating up right behind him. The last four stages of the competition became a battlefield for both the Sebastiens.
Loeb was the first one to attack but Ogier was quick to respond. After a fierce fight, the two French heroes arrived at the final special, the Power Stage, separated by just 4.6 seconds. In the last stage Tänak sealed his victory climbing up to second in the standings at the same time. Behind him came Ogier, who now had become the overall leader.
Meanwhile, Loeb had to settle for the last step of the podium, his first since the Spanish Rally 2018 and also his first with Hyundai. Elfyn Evans finished fourth over a minute ahead of Teemu Suninen who was fifth. Esapekka Lappi and Andreas Mikkelsen were sixth and seventh respectively.
The next rally of the Championship will take place in three weeks-time from May the 30th to June the 2nd in Portugal with the first two leaders separated by just ten points.
Overall standings Rally Chile 2019:
1. Ott Tanak Estonia Toyota 3h15:53.8
2. Sébastien Ogier France Citroën C3 +23.1
3. Sébastien Loeb France Hyundai i20 +30.2
4. Elfyn Evans United Kingdom Ford +1:36.7
5. Teemu Sininen Finland Ford +3:15.6
6. Esapekka Lappi Finland Citroën C3 +3:45.4
7. Andreas Mikkelsen Norway Hyundai i20 +4:39.0
8. Kris Meeke United Kingdom Toyota +7:33.4
9. Kalle Rovanperä Finland Skoda +7;52.5
10. Mads Ostberg Norway Citroën C3 +8;16.1
Imágens: Citroën, Hyundai y Toyota.
Images ‘Rally Chile’: Citroën, Hyundai, Toyota & Rally Chile 2019.