Tanak on the brink of Chile WRC win

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

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

Ott Tanak is four stages away from scoring his second victory of the season – and his second in Chile – after another tyre selection masterstroke from the Estonian and M-Sport.

Tanak was able to move in front thanks largely to his decision to carry a set of soft compound Pirellis for the Friday afternoon loop of three stages. He then extended his overnight margin of 4.2s to 47.8s at the midday service halt after his call to take four hard covers – plus two softs – for Saturday morning’s trio of stages proved inspired.

The move was particularly decisive on the 28.72km of Maria de las Cruces, the longest stage of the rally. With two unused hards available, Tanak was quicker by 7.6s as the ultra-abrasive roads punished those not on hard covers all round.

With softs only, Toyota’s Elfyn Evans – third overnight – was notably exposed. As the ground and ambient temperatures increased, his badly worn Pirellis began to falter and he completed SS9 with two delaminated rears.

Having demoted Teemu Suninen for second on Saturday’s opener, Evans slipped to fourth after completing Maria de las Cruces 56.2s slower than Tanak.

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Evans’ world champion team-mate Kalle Rovanpera – who the Briton is desperate to beat to keep his fading title hopes alive – was potentially in a worse situation with just one spare compared to the two carried by Evans.

But, the Finn did a better job at preserving what he had and made it to the finish of Stage 9 at 46.7s off the pace.

While the tyre choice was simply hards only for the afternoon, the punishing roads still required plenty of tyre management.

After admitting he’d taken tyre saving too far on SS10, Tanak was back on form on the next two runs by upping his tally of fastest times to seven so far. He starts Sunday’s schedule of two repeated stages 58.3s ahead of Suninen.

“With the decisions we made we managed to build a good gap and this gave us the chance this afternoon to manage the situation,” said Tanak.

“The only tough part today was the tyre management. The road surface was clearly abrasive and tough for the rubber.

“The rhythm and characteristic of the stages yesterday made it tricky, but although today was a step down in terms of speed it was even harder with the tyre management.

“It’s been two days about tyres and decisions and we’ve made good decisions and built this gap we have. There is still a long way to go but it’s up to us to finish it.”

Suninen heads into Sunday 13.9s ahead of Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville and on course for his first podium with the squad on only his third start.

Neuville, meanwhile, dropped time with a hybrid issue this afternoon, two near off-road moments and a delayed start to SS12 when his i20 wouldn’t fire up.

Having led at the midday halt on Friday, Evans is 10.7s behind Neuville in fourth on a day when his Toyota team boss Jari-Matti Latvala admitted the Japanese outfit had made the wrong tyre call.

“We did a mistake with the calculations for the tyre choice,” said Latvala.

“We have a lot of data but this kind of surface we were facing today we didn’t have enough good data.

“The calculations were wrong and we proposed the wrong tyres to the drivers.

“We’ve learned a good lesson having succeeded really well with the tyre choices this season. Sometimes you have bad days and today we had a bad day.”

Behind fifth-placed Rovanpera, Takamoto Katsuta is sixth followed by Toksport Skoda WRC2 trio Oliver Solberg, Gus Greensmith, and Sami Pajari.

Gregoire Munster was seventh starting SS12 but two offs and two punctures cost him seven minutes and he’s slipped to 16th overall as a result.

Sunday’s four-stage leg begins with the 13.20km Las Pataguas run from 08:07 local time.

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