Stage report

WRC Chile: Evans leads as Lappi, Loubet suffer high-speed rolls

World Rally Championship title contender Elfyn Evans ended Friday morning with the Rally Chile lead after a chaotic loop that included frightening rolls for Esapekka Lappi and Pierre-Louis Loubet.

Evans guided his Toyota GR Yaris to two fastest times from the three stages, to open up a 2.6s-lead over Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen, as the WRC endured a spectacular return to South America's gravel roads.

M-Sport’s Ott Tanak headed to midpoint service in third, 0.1s adrift of Suninen, despite suffering a spin and loss of hybrid. Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera, who could seal a second world title this weekend, limited the damage of opening roads to hold fourth (+13.6s).

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville (+21.7s), Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (+28.3s) and M-Sport Rally1 debutant Gregoire Munster (+52.7s) completed the top seven. The latter was without a pacenote book, leaving co-driver Louis Louka to resort to reading notes from a mobile phone.   

The rally kicked off with a demanding fast and technical pass through the Pulperia (19.77km), which provided plenty of drama.

Tanak, starting fourth on the road, managed to tame the “fun but extremely demanding” stage to move into an early lead after clocking a time 2.1s faster than Hyundai’s Suninen.

Evans, who topped Thursday’s shakedown, posted the third-quickest time (+4.9s) having started second on the loose gravel road, while Loubet reached the stage end in fourth (+7.4s).

But championship leader Rovanpera struggled dealing with the loose gravel starting first on the road. The Finn was fifth-fastest, 10.0s slower than stage winner Tanak. 

“It is definitely one of the worst stages I have done this year driving-wise,” said Rovanpera. 

Hyundai’s Neuville also found the going tough and reported a concerning lack of grip that contributed to the Belgian’s 12.6s time loss.

However, it was Lappi that grabbed the headlines for the wrong reasons after the Finn suffered a spectacular exit from the rally. 

The Hyundai driver clipped a concrete culvert on the entry to the final corner which pitched the i20N into a series of violent rolls with the car coming to rest in sight of the finish line. 

Lappi and co-driver Janne Ferm emerged from the wreckage unscathed but it appears to duo won’t rejoin the rally due after their i20N suffered damage to the roll cage.

“I guess I braked late and there was no chance to make the corner,” said Lappi. "The roll cage is quite damaged, so there is no chance [of continuing].”

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Rally1 debutants Munster and local favourite Alberto Heller completed the test in 11th and 12th respectively with the former suffering a turbo issue with his Ford Puma.

Tanak lost the rally lead to Evans after crews tackled stage two (Rere, 13.34km) as the former endured an eventful run. The M-Sport driver spun his Puma which cost him seven seconds, while a heavy landing from a jump at the start of the stage left the Estonian without hybrid boost.

The time loss resulted in Tanak posting the sixth-fastest time as Evans took the stage win by 1.5s from a marginally happier Rovanpera.

“This one was definitely a bit better. But there was still so much cleaning, more than I was expecting, it’s really difficult. I was saying ‘hi’ to a really cute dog on the road section before so hopefully that gives us some good luck at least,“ said Rovanpera. 

Loubet continued his strong start by logging the third-best time ahead of Neuville, who had made changes to his suspension set-up, but was unable to trust his car’s handling. 

Evans took a 0.1s overall lead over Suninen into the final test of the morning (Rio Claro 23.32km) and the Welshman managed to extend that to 2.6s with his second stage win of the rally. 

Tanak was Evans’ nearest rival, 0.9s adrift, despite a lack of hybrid power, while Suninen was fourth-fastest and leading Hyundai as team-mate Neuville admitted he was “fighting like hell” with his i20N.

To add to the drama, Loubet, who was fourth overall after the first two stages, became the rally’s next victim. The M-Sport driver left the road at high-speed 14.9km into the stage and rolled his Puma putting him out of the rally.

Skoda driver Sami Pajari led the WRC2 class in eighth overall ahead of Oliver Solberg and Heller, before a second pass through the stages.

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