Kalle Rovanpera secured an emphatic Rally Sweden victory on Sunday afternoon for Toyota Gazoo Racing – 21 years after father Harri claimed his only FIA World Rally Championship win at the event.
The 21-year-old Finn earned his third WRC career success by 22s after his closest chaser and Toyota teammate, Elfyn Evans, crashed out in a snowbank at the start of the final morning. Rovanpera now heads the WRC driver standings by 14 points after round two of 13.
Five different drivers led during a fast and furious opening day near Umea in the most northerly Rally Sweden ever. Rovanpera regained the initiative early on the second leg, but Evans remained hot on his heels before his untimely exit.
“I didn’t think we could be this good, especially starting first on the road on Friday,” said Rovanpera, who was only four months old when his father triumphed at the WRC’s only pure snow and ice event in 2001 in a Peugeot 206 World Rally Car. “It was quite a big job, but the team did a great job also and the car was great all the time. I feel so much more confident now.
“I didn’t feel like celebrating too much now,” he added. “It has been a really difficult weekend for the people in Ukraine and I really hope they have the strength and hope in these difficult times.”
Evans was already 8.3s behind Rovanpera at the end of Saturday’s second leg, but any chance of catching his teammate became considerably more difficult when stewards added a 10s penalty late on Saturday night for going wide on the final corner of the final stage, plowing through a snow bank and completing the test off the prescribed route. But any chance of closing the gap ended when the Welshman slammed into his Sunday morning snowbank, the front of his Yaris too badly damaged to continue.
After a disappointing opening round last month, second place for Thierry Neuville provided a timely boost for Hyundai Motorsport. The Belgian survived a couple of brushes with the snowbanks in his i20 N Rally1 and managed to keep a chasing Esapekka Lappi at bay.
Lappi, back in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s factory line-up after a three-year absence, eventually finished 8.6s behind Neuville to promote the Japanese marque into top spot in the manufacturers’ championship, 24 points ahead of M-Sport Ford.
Japanese driver Takamoto Katsuta made it three GR Yaris cars in the top four, a further 1m48.8s adrift, but a full minute ahead of M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith, who overcame a troubled opening leg, including snow bank visits and gearbox problems, to finish fifth in his Puma Rally1.
Flying the flag for Sweden, Oliver Solberg was in the midst of the lead battle on the opening day, but throttle problems on his i20 N cost time on Saturday and he dropped to sixth at the finish.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, reigning champ Andreas Mikkelsen (Skoda Fabia Evo) grew his lead over fellow Norwegian Ole Christian Veiby (Volkswagen Polo GTi) to finish a comfortable 23.2s ahead, with Jari Huttunen’s Ford Fiesta completing the podium.
The WRC now pauses for an early-season break before returning for the Croatia Rally on April 21-24. The asphalt event is based in the capital city of Zagreb.
WRC Rally Sweden, final positions after Day Three, SS15
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h10m44.9s
2 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +22.0s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +30.6s
4 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m19.4s
5 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +3m20.4s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +5m39.4s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2 winner) +7m11.1s
8 Ole Christian Veiby/Stig Rune Skjaermoen (Volkswagen Polo GTi) +7m34.3s
9 Jari Huttunen/Mikko Lukka (M-Sport Ford Fiesta MkII) +8m14.2s
10 Egon Kaur/Silver Simm (Volkswagen Polo GTi) +8m24.8s
WRC Drivers’ Championship points after round 2 of 13
1 K. Rovanpera (Toyota) 46pts
2 T. Neuville (Hyundai) 32
3 S. Loeb (Ford) 27
Manufacturers’ Championship points
1 Toyota 83pts
2 M-Sport Ford 59
3 Hyundai 47
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