Kalle Rovanpera led Rally Sweden on Saturday night after a breathtaking drive in darkness distanced his rivals at the close of another fast and furious day’s competition on the FIA World Rally Championship’s only true ice and snow event.
Five different drivers led this second round of the WRC during Friday’s opening leg, but the sport’s newest “Flying Finn” took control for a second time on Saturday morning and fended off an end-of-day attack from his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 teammate, Elfyn Evans.
The 21-year old headed Evans by just 1.2s with two of the day’s six special stages remaining. As night fell and the headlights were turned on, he turned up the pace further to win both stages and extend his advantage to 8.3s over the Welshman with just Sunday’s short final leg remaining.
Rovanpera relegated the overnight leader, Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, in Saturday’s opening special stage and was almost five seconds to the good by the midpoint of the day’s six stages. After a single service halt, Evans went fastest on the repeat pass of the day’s opener, only for his Toyota Gazoo Racing colleague to deliver a potentially crucial blow in the Swedish darkness.
“I knew that when we lost a bit in the afternoon’s first stage we needed to fight back,” said Rovanpera. “It should always be 100-percent commitment, but on the last stage I think it was 105 or 110 percent! They were really difficult conditions and I’m happy to be through without mistakes. Tomorrow will still be a big fight.”
Evans won two of the six stages compared with Rovanpera’s trio of fastest times, but almost threw away his chances on the final corner of the closing test. He plowed through a snowbank at exactly the point where the finish timing beam was located and completed the final yards to the stop line on a road parallel to the stage.
Neuville remained on the heels of the two Toyota drivers until an overshoot in the morning’s final test cost 10s and demoted him to fourth overall. A spirited recovery promoted him back to third at day’s end, but still 21.7s off the lead in his Hyundai i20 N.
The Belgian had 4.2s in hand over the third factory GR Yaris of Esapekka Lappi. The Finn fell away from the lead battle during the day and headed to the overnight halt almost 1m20s clear of Takamoto Katsuta in the fourth of the Toyotas.
The Japanese driver benefited from a throttle problem for Oliver Solberg, who dropped 90s after limping through the final stage in his factory i20 N. Solberg also collected a 2m40s penalty for arriving late at the test after working to make repairs on the preceding liaison section. After hoping for a strong result on his home event, he’s now more than five minutes off the lead battle in seventh.
Gus Greensmith finished Saturday in sixth in his M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1. The Brit gained two places in the final stage due to Solberg’s problem and an engine issue for his M-Sport teammate Adrien Fourmaux, which cost the Frenchman almost five minutes and dropped him off the leaderboard.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, reigning champ Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia Evo) has extended his lead over fellow Norwegian Ole Christian Veiby (Volkswagen Polo GTi) to 10.9s, with Nikolay Gryazin’s Skoda a further 19.7s back in an unchanged top three.
Two special stages northwest of host city Umea are tackled twice in Sunday’s finale, totaling 35.32 competitive miles — more than enough to add some more twists and turns to a fascinating contest. The closing test forms the Wolf Power Stage, where the fastest five drivers will add bonus points to their overall points score.
WRC Rally Sweden, leading positions after Day Two, SS15
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 1h45m26.7s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +8.3s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +21.7s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +25.9s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m44.8s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m48.1s
7 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +5m19.9s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2 leader) +5m33.5s
9 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Volkswagen Polo GTi) +5m44.4s
10 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Skoda Fabia Evo) +6m04.1s
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