The last time Chile hosted a round of the FIA World Rally Championship, Kalle Rovanperä was just 18 years old and had yet to break into the sport’s leading category. As the championship returns to Chile this week for the first time since 2019, that landscape has changed dramatically.
Rovanperä, now 22, already holds one world title and is well on track to make it two. The Toyota Gazoo Racing team which he drives for, meanwhile, arrives in South America on the brink of clinching its third-consecutive manufacturers’ crown.
The Japanese marque could celebrate the coveted title with two rallies to spare should it manage to outscore rival squad Hyundai Motorsport by at least 13 points at this 11th round of the season. That task falls in the hands of Rovanperä and his GR Yaris-driving team-mates Elfyn Evans – second in the points – and Takamoto Katsuta.
“The last time we were here, I was driving a Rally2 car and we had a good weekend,” said Rovanperä, for whom Chile represents the first mathematical opportunity to be crowned champion for a second time.“
I think that after four years and with a lot of new stages, it is going to feel more like a new rally anyway and it’s going to be a challenging event for everyone,” he added.Evans trails his colleague by 33 points in the drivers’ championship battle and a top-eight finish for the Welshman would ensure the fight continues.
Thierry Neuville is the only other driver still in contention, although the Hyundai star, who crashed heavily last time here, languishes a hefty 66 points back from the lead. Joining the Belgian in a three-strong i20 N line-up are Finns Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen.
Ott Tänak is the only driver to have won an FIA World Rally Championship round in Chile and did so behind the wheel of a Yaris World Rally Car. The Estonian now drives for M-Sport Ford, which fields Pumas for him, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Rally1 debutant Grégoire Munster. Local hero Albert Heller, a class winner at WRC2 level, has rented a fourth car for his home round.
Almost all 16 of the fast and smooth gravel road tests are new for this year. They take place mostly on forest tracks inland from the Pacific Ocean and near to the imposing Rio Biobió, Chile’s second biggest river.
After Thursday evening’s start ceremony in Los Ángeles, competitors face 320.98km of competition before the finish in Concepción, located 500km south of Chilean capital Santiago, on Sunday afternoon.
Photo: Taneli Niinimäki/AKK