Tanak fights back to lead in Chile

Ott Tanak. Image: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Ott Tanak. Image: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Ott Tanak leads on a Friday in the World Rally Championship for the first time since New Zealand hosted the series last autumn after he completed leg one of Rally Chile in front by 4.2s.

The M-Sport driver was fastest first on Friday morning but then slipped back following a heavy landing and spin on SS2, which he completed with no working hybrid in his Ford Puma and minor suspension damage.

But his decision to take a full set of soft compound Pirellis for the afternoon loop – the only driver to do so – proved inspired as he capitalised on the extra grip to add two more fastest stage times to his tally.

From being 2.7s off the lead at midday service in the city of Concepcion, Tanak was ahead of Teemu Suninen by 1.1s after he set the pace through SS5, and the Estonian was quickest again on SS6 to ensure he reached the overnight halt in the lead.

“It’s not been enjoyable, it’s been demanding,” Tanak said.

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“The roads are all-new and with the high speed, low grip and other factors it’s been extremely demanding to keep a good rhythm.

“It’s not been an easy job. I am not saying the stages are not fun, they are fun but they are not easy to drive on.

“Tomorrow’s stages will be very different, slower to be honest but more demanding for the tyres, it’s not going to get any easier.”

Running seventh and then sixth on the road after team-mate Esapekka Lappi crashed heavily on SS1, Suninen scored his first win in Hyundai colours to move into the lead on SS4. He could have kept his advantage but for some “small issues” on SS5 and SS6.

“I think we did a good job,” said the Finn, who is making his third WRC start in a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.

“We were driving very well and pretty much on the limit the entire time, with a few moments here and there, but we are still here and in a really good position with just a few seconds between us and the lead.

“The car was really enjoyable to drive. I am happy with my performance, I think we managed some small issues well and didn’t lose too much time.

“I want to go for the win, but tomorrow is like a whole new rally. There is a lot of new things but I will try to keep pushing.”

With two stage wins out of three, Elfyn Evans led at the midday halt from second on the road but couldn’t hold on in the afternoon. He’s 12.7s off the pace in third.

“We had a really good morning but it wasn’t easy,” the factory Toyota driver said.

“The grip levels were really low and today’s stages were particularly technical. It was very fast in places, but also quite blind, so with the grip as it was, the pacenotes were really critical.

“Somehow the road seemed to be cleaning more in the afternoon, which was a bit of a surprise and made things quite difficult for us, and I also just didn’t have the best feeling behind the wheel.

“But given our starting position this morning, it’s quite okay to at least be in the fight tonight.”

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville struggled for grip and confidence in the morning but moved ahead of Kalle Rovanpera for fourth on Friday’s final stage when the Finn suffered a half spin and briefly left the road.

The world champion has been on road-opening duty all day and is 38.7s off the lead as a result.

“The stages were definitely looser and more slippery than I had been expecting. Where it had been drying up, it was a big challenge to open the road.

“The road cleaning was still a big factor [in the afternoon]: the surface was a bit messier with no clear lines to follow, so it was tough.

“Then I had a half-spin in the final stage and dropped a place, which was not good for the road position for tomorrow, but hopefully we can still start to fight back.”

Takamoto Katsuta is sixth with Gregoire Munster seventh on his Rally1 debut, despite co-driver Louis Louka resorting to reading Munster’s pacenotes from his smartphone during the morning loop after he left his pacenote book behind in service.

Pierre-Louis Loubet was fourth when he crashed at high speed on SS3. Like Lappi, Loubet has retired due to car damage.

Sami Pajari heads Oliver Solberg in WRC2 with Chilean Alberto Heller 10th overnight on his Rally1 debut.

SS7, the 27.19-kilometre Chivilingo stage, is up first on Saturday with Heller due to run first from 07:57 local time.

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