Elfyn Evans won two of Friday’s three gravel road tests to lead Hyundai rival Teemu Suninen by a slender margin at Rally Chile Bio Bío.
On its return to the FIA World Rally Championship calendar for the first time since 2019, the South American fixture wasted no time in proving it had lost none of its punishing power.
Esapekka Lappi found out the hard way as he dramatically rolled his Hyundai i20 N on a fast left-hander in the very first stage, as did Pierre-Louis Loubet – who crashed his Ford Puma into the foliage on SS3.
Evans, driving a Toyota GR Yaris, made a steady start to this 11th round of the season and dropped a handful of seconds in the opener at Pulperia. He recovered quickly by winning the following pair of rapid-fire speed tests, however, and overtook a spinning Ott Tänak to head Teemu Suninen by 2.6sec at the mid-leg service halt in Concepción.
“It’s been pretty difficult with the low grip,” the Welshman said, referencing the loose stones blanketing the gravel surface. “It’s really difficult to gauge how you’re doing because it’s so technical and the grip is so low.”
Suninen, helped by a cleaner line from his later starting position, was faster than Evans through the first stage but admitted there was more speed to come on only his third i20 N Rally1 outing. The Finn headed Tänak by just one-tenth of a second, with the latter reporting a series of issues aboard his M-Sport Ford Puma.
A spin towards the finish of Rere did not help Tänak’s confidence, although he was more concerned by a heavy landing from a jump earlier in the stage which winded co-driver Martin Järveoja and stopped the car’s hybrid unit from working. A suspected suspension problem added to their worries.
Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä faced the worst of the loose conditions as he opened the road in another Toyota. The 23-year-old trailed Tänak by 10.9sec after three stages.
Also struggling was Thierry Neuville, currently third in the points. A lack of traction pierced the Hyundai driver’s confidence and he arrived back to service frustratingly 21.7sec off the pace. Takamoto Katsuta, one position behind, was simply unhappy with his driving.
Grégoire Munster had a stressful start to his Puma Rally1 debut after co-driver Louis Louka accidentally forgot to bring his pace notes. Louka resorted to his mobile phone, reading from pictures sent by the M-Sport Ford team, and amazingly guided Munster to seventh overall.
Eighth-placed Sami Pajari headed Oliver Solberg by just 2.4sec in the battle for WRC2 honours while home ace Alberto Heller completed the top 10 in a rented Puma.