Ott Tänak closed in on the Rally Chile Bio Bío silverware and his second win of the season by dominating Saturday to build a commanding lead as tyres dominated the day.
Pick the right compound, and you’re good to go. Choose the wrong one, and you lose truckloads of time as Toyota Gazoo Racing trio found out to their cost.
Tänak and his M-Sport Ford Puma were imperious as the Estonian turned a 4.2 second lead into a massive 58.3 second advantage over Hyundai Shell Mobis’ Teemu Suninen at the end of the rally’s longest day.
Saturday’s stages were longer, twistier and much more abrasive than Friday’s. And while Tänak’s rivals leaned towards Pirelli’s soft compound rubber for the morning loop, the Estonian’s decision to take four hard tyres with him made a world of difference.
With their tyres worn down by the time they had reached the final stage before lunchtime, Suninen, Evans and Rovanperä all leaked masses of time. Tänak, whose hard choice boasted a longer lifespan, took full advantage and extended his lead to 47.8sec before service.
Tyre preservation remained a key factor on the repeated afternoon loop but, with the hard work done, Tänak and co-driver Martin Järveoja were able to manage their lead over Suninen.
“It’s been an extremely good day,” Tänak admitted. “It’s been working in our favour and, on the stages which were bad, we had the advantage to slow down but, when it was needed, we were able to speed up. It’s not finished yet, so we need to keep it going tomorrow.”
Neuville was hindered by a slow puncture in the day’s opening stage but passed Evans late in the morning to make it two Hyundai i20 N cars inside the top three. He and Suninen were split by 13.9sec after Saturday’s loops and barring any drama on Sunday, will postpone Toyota’s Manufacturers’ title celebrations.
For Rovanperä, who ended the day 39.3sec behind Evans in fifth overall, will also most likely have to wait for his second title.
The Finn turns 23 on Sunday and carried a commanding 33-point lead into this 11th round of the season, but requires a score 28 points higher than team-mate Evans’ if he is to celebrate the title with two rallies remaining.
Takamoto Katsuta experienced tyre troubles of his own in SS9 but remained a lonely sixth overall in another Toyota. Behind him was WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg who, along with Gus Greensmith, passed Sami Pajari in the final stage as the Škoda Fabia driver struggled with tyre wear.
Grégoire Munster lost seven minutes when he stopped to change two wheels late in the day. His time loss allowed Yohan Rossel to complete the top 10. Sunday’s finale boasts speed tests in Las Pataguas and El Poñen, each driven twice and punctuated by a brief 15-minute service halt. The second pass of the latter forms the Wolf Power Stage where vital bonus points are up for grabs.
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