OTT Tänak reignited his FIA World Rally Championship title bid with victory at the inaugural Copec Rally Chile on Sunday.
The Estonian led from the second of the 16 special stages on Friday morning in a Toyota Yaris. He measured his pace on wet, slippery and foggy forest tracks to claim his second win of the season by 23.1sec from Sébastien Ogier.
Victory promoted him to second in the drivers’ standings after disappointing results at the previous two rounds. He lies 10 points behind new leader Ogier, who replaced Thierry Neuville at the top as the 14-round championship approaches its midpoint.
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Neuville lies two points further adrift after his huge rally-ending crash on Saturday. All three have now scored two wins each this season.
The weekend result more than halved the points spread between the WRC’s three top protagonists, whose battle has raged since they clashed for the 2018 title at Kennards Hire Rally Australia last November. The championship returns to the NSW Coffs Coast on 14-17 November for the 2019 finale.
Aside from an overshoot in the first stage, Tänak was firmly in control, throughout Rally Chile, quickly getting to grips with the tricky conditions and new pace notes required for Chile’s WRC debut. A final charge ensured maximum bonus points from the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage.
“It was a very difficult and demanding weekend and I needed a lot of focus and energy to be perfect,” he said.
“We weren’t on the limit all the time. We’ve had two setbacks in a row before this where we lost the rally lead, but we proved we’re back in the fight.”
Ogier locked horns with fellow multi-world champion and Hyundai part-timer Sébastien Loeb in a furious fight for second. Driving a Hyundai i20 for the first time on gravel, Loeb closed to within 1.1sec of Ogier on Sunday morning before the Citroen C3 driver battled back to finish 7.1sec clear.
Ogier’s Power Stage drive was handicapped when a fire extinguisher went off, leaving the Frenchman light-headed by the end of the 12.52km test.
Elfyn Evans eased through the short final leg to claim fourth in a Ford Fiesta, more than a minute adrift of Loeb. Team-mate Teemu Suninen held off Esapekka Lappi to secure fifth, his cause aided when Lappi spun his C3 in the final stage.
Andreas Mikkelsen was a distant seventh in another i20, the Norwegian leading home Kris Meeke, who recovered from a Saturday morning roll to fight back into the points in a Yaris.
Kalle Rovanperä, winner of the WRC 2 Pro support category, finished ninth in a Skoda Fabia ahead of Mads Østberg.
The championship returns to Europe later this month for the first of two hot-weather gravel road fixtures there. Vodafone Rally de Portugal is based in Matosinhos, Porto, on 30 May-2 June.
RESULTS, Copec Rally Chile (WRC, round 6):
1 O. Tänak/M. Järveoja Toyota Yaris WRC 3:15:53.8
2 S. Ogier J. Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +23.1
3 S. Loeb/D. Elena (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +30.2
4 E. Evans/S. Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:36.7
5 T. Suninen/M. Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3:15.6
6 E. Lappi/J. Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +3:45.4
7 A. Mikkelsen/A. Jæger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +4:39.0
8 K. Meeke/S. Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +7:33.4
9 K. Rovanperä J. Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5) +7:52.5
10 M. Østberg/T. Eriksen (Citroën C3 R5) +8:16.1
WRC drivers’ standings (after rd 6):
1 S. Ogier 122
2 O. Tanak 112
3 T. Neuville 110
4 K. Meeke 59
5 E. Evans 55
6 S. Loeb 39
7 A. Mikkelsen 36
8 E. Lappi 34
9 J-M Latvala 32
10 T. Suninen 30
11 D. Sordo 26
WRC manufacturers’ standings (after rd 6):
1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 178
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 149
3 Citroën Total World Rally Team 143
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 100