The gravel portion of the 2023 World Rally Championship season is done.
And after a miserable run of gravel form, Ott Tänak and M-Sport returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since February.
But Tänak was far from the only ‘winning’ driver in Chile, and indeed several others had a weekend to forget.
Here are our winners and losers from Rally Chile 2023:
This is what Tänak and M-Sport Ford can achieve when things come together. We saw it in Sweden, and both Tänak and the team’s tactical nouse came to the fore in Chile.
The tire call was aced on Saturday morning, and it ballooned Tänak’s lead from 4.2 to 47.8 seconds in just three stages. From there the rally was his.
Victories (and even podiums) have been far too infrequent for Tänak upon his M-Sport return – this was his incredibly his first podium since April – but it was a reminder of what both car and driver are capable of in the right circumstances.
The Estonian remains the only driver to have won Rally Chile too, having succeeded the first time it ran back in 2019.
It’s about time Oliver Solberg appeared in the winners section of this feature rather than the losers!
And it’s completely apt that he earns his place on this side of the coin after his first WRC2 win since February, and arguably his most impressive performance to date.
This was a fine display of rally management from Solberg. Tussling with Sami Pajari for most of the contest, Solberg was happy to sacrifice time on Saturday afternoon having felt he overworked his tires in the morning.
As Pajari killed his rubber, Solberg soared past and held off Gus Greensmith’s charge on the final day to deliver an accomplished victory to conclude a WRC2 season that’ll sadly go down as a ‘what might have been’.
It’s tempting to award the 2022 world champion a spot in the winners sections for his brilliant Mario Kart one-liner at the end of SS12 alone – caught in Grégoire Munster’s dust, he likened it to playing the popular game with banana peels or smoke bombs being thrown at him.
Asked where the inspiration for such a classic quote came from, he insisted: “I was honestly thinking about it when I was driving in the dust.”
Anyway, the real (but more boring) reason Rovanperä is a winner from Chile is his championship lead remains a healthy 31 points.
That perhaps speaks more of the missed opportunity of Elfyn Evans’ rally than it does Rovanperä’s weekend – the Welshman particularly punished by Toyota’s soft tire calamity (more on that below).
But Rovanperä put in his own hard yards, for example winning the powerstage, that meant his championship lead was clipped by just two points. Considering his first-on-the-road handicap, that has to represent a good weekend’s work.
Toyota looked as if it was, for once, going to find itself in the losers’ column here. Certainly, by its lofty standards, just one car on the podium – and in third – was hardly a vintage result.
And that all came down to a difficult, but ultimately incorrect, decision on Friday evening to send all three cars out for Saturday morning’s loop without any hard tires.
Evans and Takamoto Katsuta both punctured, and Rovanperä backed off immensely to avoid the same fate on stages that severely worked the Pirelli tires.
But thanks to Teemu Suninen’s off on SS15, and a 1-2 for Rovanperä and Evans on the powerstage, Toyota celebrates tonight as manufacturers’ world champion for the third season in a row.
How can a weekend that ends up like that be considered anything other than a win?
Was all set to feature in the winners section. In fact, we had even drafted his entry! Serves us right for trying to plan ahead.
What was looking to be a superb weekend for Teemu Suninen turned into a nightmare in an instant.
Keen to fight Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville for second, Suninen was losing ground but just about holding on – therefore on course for the joint best result of his career.
But narrowly clipping a tree stump on the penultimate stage immediately broke the front-right wheel of his i20 N Rally1 and the Finn slid helplessly off the road into a ditch on the inside.
A hefty penalty for what was barely a mistake, but the smallest of margins make all the difference at the front of the WRC.
It’s not been a good season for Pierre-Louis Loubet, but it unfortunately got worse in Chile.
After the crushing disappointment of retiring on the way to Friday’s first stage in Greece, what the M-Sport driver didn’t need was another Friday morning retirement this weekend.
Yet that’s what he got – meaning he has scored points in just four of the year’s 11 rounds.
While in the past the car has let him down, this time it was all of the crew’s making. Loubet stopped short of blaming co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul, but certainly suggested that there had been some sort of misunderstanding in the car – whether that was a co-driving mistake or Loubet mishearing a note will likely never be revealed.
All Loubet did say was: “We go on the left and it was a right corner, so not ideal.”
The onboard certainly corroborated with Loubet’s assessment as he arrived at a right-hander as if it wasn’t there, and careered off the road into a series of rolls.
The only positive is that both crew were OK.
Esapekka Lappi’s brilliant run of consecutive podiums feels like a long time ago now.
Lappi reckons he was on for a podium in Greece but for mechanical issues, but in Chile – just like in Finland – he was heading home early, and all because of his own misjudgement. This time he didn’t even manage a single stage before retiring.
It was a simple driving mistake – arriving at the corner too fast, Lappi did his best to make it but found a culvert and flipped his Hyundai into a series of rolls, and he was man enough to admit his error.
But it was a bruising result for a driver who, at one point this season, looked like a sure-fire bet for a podium – or even a win – on every single gravel round.
Similarly with Loubet, the positive is that both Lappi and Janne Ferme escaped unharmed. But little else will be making him smile as he prepares for the final two asphalt rounds of the year.
The Citroën star has had a deeply impressive season, mixing it with drivers with far more experience and profile for this year’s WRC2 title.
But he struggled in Chile, particularly on Friday as first Rally2 car onto the stages forging a new line for his rivals to follow. A hugely impressive Saturday comeback was unfortunately too little too late, as fourth place could prove to be a result Yohan Rossel reflects on as the one that cost him the championship.
A mysterious engine mapping problem on Friday and a general lack of pace perhaps from his C3 Rally2 on the low-grip stages restricted Rossel’s charge – as did a very early place in the powerstage running order – and left him powerless to challenge the flying Škodas out front.
Given his Monte Carlo and Croatia form, Rossel could well be the one to beat on the title showdown at Central European Rally later this month. But he heads there with the odds stacked against him in the championship.