This week is a big one for the World Rally Championship as it lands in South America for the first time in four years.
The last time the WRC visited the continent was for Rally Chile, and that’s where the championship returns for round 11 of the 2023 campaign.
This year’s event is basically brand-new with hardly any of the stages from 2019 making an appearance on 2023’s itinerary. And plenty has changed in the world championship – not least the cars competing at the front – which makes reading too much into the first ever Rally Chile a fool’s game.
But it’s always fun to look back, isn’t it?
So as we get ready for this returning event, let’s remind ourselves of the main talking points from Rally Chile 2019:
A stall at a junction just after a narrow bridge allowed his two Toyota team-mates, Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala, to share the fastest time on stage one and jointly lead the rally.
But Ott Tänak moved into the lead on SS2 and never looked back.
Electrical issues had robbed him of what looked to be victory a fortnight earlier in Argentina, but there were no such concerns in Chile. In the end Tänak came home a controlled 23.1 seconds ahead of anyone else to secure his second victory of the season, complete with the fastest time on the powerstage.
“Good event,” he said. “It’s been a very demanding weekend…”
“It didn’t look so difficult for you!” Sébastien Ogier interrupted as he congratulated his rival.
“So yeah it was a tough job,” Tänak continued. “It needed a lot of focus and a lot of energy to be perfect this weekend. The most important was for the team, for the engineers, for the mechanics because we’ve had now two setbacks in a row in two rallies where we’ve lost the lead, so now we’ve proved again we can make it. We have it, we can do it.”
Meeke penalized for removing windshield
Meeke was the first major casualty of Rally Chile, running wide on a sweeping left-hander on Saturday’s first stage and rolling his Yaris WRC onto its roof.
Managing to get going again, Meeke frustrated Latvala by accidentally holding up his team-mate – who had already been irate during the weekend, albeit at himself, for stalling at a junction and questioning “how I can be so stupid”.
But that was just the beginning of the madness, as Meeke and co-driver Sebastian Marshall completed the remainder of the morning loop without their windshield which had cracked during their accident. They therefore removed it on safety grounds.
However the British crew did so within the time control at the start of SS8 which broke the regulations, and therefore earned him a one-minute penalty.
Meeke was aggravated by the punishment, arguing that he could have lost his eyesight had the windshield remained in the car and that he wasn’t working on his car to gain any kind of an advantage, but the penalty stood and he slipped from eighth to 10th overall.
Neuville had a huge crash
If Meeke was the first victim of Rally Chile, then Thierry Neuville was the biggest.
The Hyundai driver had done well to negate the handicap of running first on the road on the opening day, and had worked his way up to third place after Saturday’s opening Rio Lia test.
But it would all go badly, and spectacularly, wrong on Maria Las Cruces as Neuville got his line wrong over his crest and pitched his Hyundai into a rapid series of rolls.
Neuville returned to the Concepción service park on crutches, but confirmed he and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were OK.
“A little bit optimistic – the pacenote was slight right flat over crest, and yeah I went a little bit wide and we hit the edge and then immediately we rolled the car,” he said.
“The situation definitely is not the one we wanted, but the gap will be not that big between Ogier, Tanak and me so the championship is still very open.”
Neuville had been leading the championship by 10 points prior to Chile, but left South America third and 12 points off the summit.
Loeb and Ogier squabbled for second
On his first ever gravel rally for Hyundai, Sébastien Loeb played himself into Rally Chile slowly. But by the time the second day dawned, ‘El Maestro’ was firmly in the groove.
Starting Saturday’s leg down in sixth, Loeb slowly began to pick his way past his rivals with five top-two stage times in a row (including two fastest times) to vault up to third ahead of Sunday’s final day.
That drew Loeb just 5.1s off the rear of Ogier’s Citroën, and set up the prospect for a classic showdown between the two Frenchmen who had dominated the WRC for one and a half decades.
Loeb swiped four seconds from Ogier on Sunday’s opener, but that was ultimately as he would get. Ogier responded on SS14 to increase his advantage back to 5.3s, before Loeb chipped away another 0.7s on the penultimate stage.
But Ogier proved to have enough in the tank and repelled Loeb’s Hyundai to beat it to second by 7.1s – a position that helped him climb to the top of the championship.
Rovanperä and Katsuta won in R5s
Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta will both from part of Toyota’s Rally1 lineup this year, but back in 2019 the pair were competing in R5 cars in WRC2 Pro and WRC2 respectively.
And both emerged victorious.
For Rovanperä it was his first victory of what turned out to be a title-winning season. The Škoda driver faced stern competition from Mads Østberg’s Citroën on the opening day before Østberg’s challenge faded on Saturday just as his rear brakes did.
That left the teenaged Finn clear to claim a comfortable victory.
Katsuta meanwhile had to fend off local driver Alberto Heller, who will compete in a Ford Puma Rally1 this weekend.
Driving a Ford Fiesta R5, despite being part of Toyota’s WRC Challenge Program, Katsuta nosed ahead but was let off the hook when Heller crashed on the final day. Katsuta eventually won by over three minutes from Benito Guerra.