Written by Apostolos Papageorgiou, Edited by Mara Simion
For the first time since Kenya, back in July, the World Rally Championship leaves Europe and heads to South America, where Rally Chile takes place. 321 competitive kilometres split across 16 special stages running through the spectacular forests close to the Pacific ocean, Chile, the final gravel rally of the season, has proved to be a real crowd pleaser in the past, with 300 thousand fans showing up for the inaugural event in 2019.
And it was a young driver by the name of Kalle Rovanperä who took victory in the WRC2 class on that Rally, while also ending up an excellent eighth overall. Four years on, and the 22 year old is looking to repeat that performance, knowing he has a chance of clinching the drivers title if he scores 30 points, the maximum available. It may sound like a tall order, but the Finn has achieved the feat three times this year, in each one of his wins, including last time out in Greece.
Even if Rovanperä gets a perfect score, he won’t win the championship as long as Elfyn Evans manages to grab four points or more. The Welshman is his teammate’s only realistic title rival, after finishing in the runner up spot at Acropolis, although he still sits 33 points adrift of the top with just three rounds to go. Elfyn has to dig deep and break the unseemingly unbreakable Rovanperä if he’s to turn the tides in the title race.
One championship battle that looks all but settled is the manufacturers, Toyota needing just 13 points to wrap up the title. Although stealing the crown seems like a tall order to say the least, the Japanese team’s closest rivals, Hyundai, could spoil the party for at least a little while longer, if they manage to outscore their competitors for the first time since Sardinia, four rallies ago.
The Korean outfit’s full-time drivers suffered a bruising Acropolis Rally, with Thierry Neuville retiring from the lead on day three and Esapekka Lappi being plagued by mechanical gremlins. Neuville still has an outside shot of becoming the drivers champion, though he’ll need nothing less than a win here, as he’s 66 points behind first placed Rovanperä, while Lappi will be hoping for a clean run on his quest to return to the podium.
Ott Tänak also has a very slim mathematical chance of catching those in front of him in the standings, though he knows that’s nothing more than a pipe dream considering M-Sport’s reliability. Even so, he can still fight for a good result, as his bullish comeback from 32nd to fourth last round demonstrated, after having to take a three minute time penalty for a damaged water pump.
Teammate Pierre-Louis Loubet didn’t even complete any proper stages in Greece, managing to do just the super special in Athens before his water pump also seized. A good starting position and a bit of luck are just what the Frenchman needs if he’s to salvage anything from his first full season in the top class.
Takamoto Katsuta was another driver to suffer with mechanical issues at the previous round, though he managed to salvage a sixth place finish. With Ogier not participating in Chile, Taka will have to put on a good performance for Toyota, especially since the team wants to secure the title.
Aside from the regular drivers, Teemu Sunninen also makes a return to the WRC, looking to continue his good performances for Hyundai in search of a full time drive with the team in 2024. Gregoire Munster will make his Rally1 debut driving a Ford Puma that once belonged to Jourdan Serderidis. The final new entry is local star Alberto Heller, also in a Puma Rally1.
The fight for the WRC2 championship reaches boiling point, with Mikkelsen, Rossel and Greensmith fighting for top spots. The first of those can outright seal the crown, since only the best six results of the seven scored by the drivers count, and all drivers will have competed in six rallies eligible for points by the end of the weekend.