Tanak wins Rally Chile, Toyota seals WRC title
Monday 2nd October, 2023 - 9:56am
Ott Tanak and M-Sport are winners again in the FIA World Rally Championship following a dominant victory in Chile, the partnership’s first triumph since Sweden in February and Tanak’s second in the South American country.
Behind him, Toyota clinched the manufacturers’ crown while Elfyn Evans kept alive his hopes of the drivers’ title, even though his world championship-leading team-mate, Kalle Rovanpera, beat him on the points-paying Power Stage.
The Finn, who turned 23 today, holds a 31-point advantage with only two events remaining and 60 points up for grabs.
Until the penultimate stage, however, it looked as though Toyota’s celebrations would have to be put on hold.
But, when Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen crashed out of what would have been a worthy second place, Evans and Rovanpera were promoted to third and fourth positions behind Thierry Neuville, while Toyota’s Power Stage one-two meant it took the crown with two rallies remaining.
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“It is the earliest we have ever, as Toyota Gazoo Racing, got the title so it shows we have done things right,” said team chief Jari-Matti Latvala.
“I am really proud of the team and the drivers and all the work we have done during the season.”
For Tanak, his 19th career victory, which relied heavily on his and M-Sport’s inspired tyre calls on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning, marked only his third appearance on the podium this season, his first back at M-Sport after five years away, following a campaign derailed by several mechanical failures.
“It’s definitely nice to have a positive outcome from the weekend after a long, long time and thanks to the mechanics and everybody who came here,” said the 35-year-old Estonian.
“We were really a small bunch of people but they did a great job and it was definitely quite close to the perfect weekend. It was not too much about pure performance, it was about the [tyre] management and how to get through the loops, so a different kind of challenge.”
Suninen was seven kilometres from the start of SS15 and on course for his first WRC podium in Hyundai colours when his i20 struck a tree stump.
Unable to turn, the car slithered off the road and down an embankment, which signalled the end for the Finn, who was 6.7s ahead of Neuville at the time of his off.
“It was a great rally and a nice battle with Thierry, but unfortunately our hard work came to an end because of a very small mistake,” Suninen said.
“I was just a few centimetres too tight with my line and hit a tree stump, which was game over. Thankfully we are unhurt.
“I’m very sorry to the entire team that we were unable to bring home the podium for them this weekend. We hope to be able to put that right in a few weeks at Central European Rally.”
Takamoto Katsuta moved up from sixth to fifth in the third factory Toyota following Suninen’s exit, with the remainder of the top 10 completed by FIA WRC2 drivers Oliver Solberg, who won the class, Gus Greensmith, Sami Pajari – the WRC2 Challenger winner – Yohan Rossel and Nikolay Gryazin.
Ford Puma drivers Grégoire Munster and home hero Alberto Heller finished 13th and 15th respectively on their first appearances in Rally1 machinery after delays.
Munster also had to nurse a brake issue through the closing two stages, while Heller completed the rally in front-wheel-drive only following a failure.
Esapekka Lappi and Pierre-Louis Loubet crashed heavily on the opening day and didn’t restart on leg two.
The all-new Central European Rally, which features Tarmac stages in Austria, Czech Republic and Germany is next on the WRC schedule from October 25-29.