Tänak pulls clear as Toyotas suffer tire catastrophe

The M-Sport driver has built a strong lead, but all three Toyota drivers were made to regret their tire choice


Ott Tänak remains out front at Rally Chile following the first loop of stages on Saturday. The M-Sport driver was fastest on two of the three tests and now sits 47.8 seconds ahead of the Hyundai of Teemu Suninen.

It was a near-perfect morning for Tänak, who has seen his lead gradually expand as his strategy of mixing hard and soft compound tires paid off.

The big story though was the disastrous tire choice from the Toyota team, which came to the fore on the morning’s final stage. All three Toyota crews had selected a full complement of soft tires and that decision proved critical as the longest stage of the weekend played out.

The signs had been there earlier in the day, as Kalle Rovanperä set the fastest time on the 16.9-mile Chivilingo test, but could only manage sixth fastest time on the Rio Lia stage that followed as his soft tires began to fade.

Elfyn Evans meanwhile had used his soft rubber to beat Teemu Suninen by 12 seconds on the first stage, edging into second place by just 0.8s. After the second stage of the day, his lead was up to 11.5s, but it all fell apart for the Welshman on the final test.

While Rovanperä backed off to preserve his already worn tires, Evans tried to extend his advantage. He was on course to beat second-fastest man, Thierry Neuville, but it proved to be an ill-thought-out gamble from the usually level-headed Toyota driver, as a double rear puncture saw him plummet down the timesheets, with only the 11th fastest time.

Evans has now dropped to fourth place, 27.9s ahead of Rovanperä. What looked like an opportunity to take big points from his team-mate has now become a fight to get back onto the podium.

The final insult to Toyota’ disastrous morning was that Takamoto Katsuta also suffered a puncture on the final morning stage, though he remains in sixth place thanks to a comfortable gap to Grégoire Munster.

Toyota’s problems have profited Hyundai. Teemu Suninen was able to take advantage of Evans’ misfortune as he adopted a more cautious strategy and now finds himself back where he started the day in second place.

Neuville has also moved onto the podium, setting second fastest time on the morning’s final stage to put himself 13.8s ahead of the faltering Evans.

Meanwhile in WRC2, Sami Pajari lost a massive 39.6 seconds to Oliver Solberg on the first stage of the morning, as he was forced to slow several times due to the dust hanging in the air from the leading cars.

That allowed Solberg to take the lead; setting the fastest time – 14.1 seconds quicker than Gus Greensmith – despite a dramatic 360-degree spin near the end of the stage.

Yohan Rossel and Nikolay Gryazin won the next two stages, but Solberg still leads the category by 16.7 seconds ahead of Pajari, with Gus Greensmith a further 14.9 seconds back in third place.