WRC podium tightens up after Chile
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The World Rally Championship battle has been tightened up with Toyota’s Ott Tanak taking his second victory of the year and former series leader Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) crashing out of Rally Chile last weekend.
The second leg of the South American double-header — and the championship’s debut appearance in Chile — saw Tanak in command and power back into contention.
He’d slipped to a distant third in the standings when his Toyota Yaris was halted by alternator failure during the previous event in Argentina.
Tanak took the rally lead when he won the second stage on Friday morning and he was never headed again on the forestry roads on the outskirts of Concepcion. He built an advantage over world champion Sebastien Ogier (Citroen) to complete the opening day with a 22.4secs lead.
An early battle for third raged between Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala and championship leader Neuville until the second stage on Saturday when the Belgian made a wide landing from a high-speed crest and rolled his Hyundai multiple times. Neuville and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were given medical checks but the extent of their injuries were limited to bruising.
That moved Latvala into third position but he retired on Saturday’s final stage with a damaged driveshaft which promoted Sebastien Loeb (Hyundai) to third.
Tanak began the final day with a 30.3secs lead over Ogier. Kris Meeke (Toyota), Ogier and Loeb won the early Sunday stages but the one that mattered was the final Bio Bio Power Stage where Tanak grabbed the maximum five bonus points with fastest time ahead of Ogier and Latvala.
Tanak’s winning margin was 23.1secs ahead of Ogier who was only 7.1secs ahead of Loeb.
Loeb was making his first gravel rally appearance in a Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC and proved a valuable contributor for the Korean marque. He was handily positioned as back-up in the Manufacturers’ championship battle following Neuville’s exit and was comfortably ahead of team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen throughout the rally.
The Chilean rally has moved Ogier back to his familiar position at the top of the championship standings on 122 points. But Tanak’s 30-point maximum haul in Chile — and Neuville’s zero score — has tightened the title fight.
Tanak is now second on 112 points, two ahead of Neuville. The championship remains a three-way fight with Kris Meeke next on 59 points and Elfyn Evans on 55 points.
In Chile, Meeke dropped back from fifth to finish eighth after a gentle — but time-consuming roll on Saturday — and Evans delivered a solid fourth place drive ahead of M-Sport Ford team-mate Teemu Suninen.
In the Manufacturers’ Championship Hyundai leads with 178 points from Toyota on 149, Citroen 143 and M-Sport Ford with 100.
The WRC now returns to Europe with Rally Portugal running from May 30-June 2 followed by the Italian round in Sardinia (June 13-16) before the seven-week northern hemisphere summer break.
2019 FIA World Rally Championship (after round 6 of 14):
1 Sebastien Ogier (France) Citroen, 122pts
2 Ott Tanak (Estonia) Toyota, 112pts
3 Thierry Neuville (Belgium) Hyundai, 110pts
4 Kris Meeke (GB) Toyota, 59pts
5 Elfyn Evans (GB) Ford, 55pts
6 Sebastien Loeb (France) Hyundai, 39pts
1 Hyundai, 178pts
2 Toyota, 149pts
3 Citroen, 143pts
4 M-Sport Ford, 100pts