Kalle Rovanpera took a giant leap towards his fifth win of the 2022 FIA World Rally Championship with a superlative performance at Rally Estonia on Saturday.
The 21-year-old Finn, who became the youngest WRC rally winner in history on Estonia’s gravel roads 12 months ago, reeled off seven consecutive fastest times in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 on Saturday’s second leg to demoralize teammate and early leader Elfyn Evans.
Rovanpera had taken the event lead from Evans in Friday’s final special stage to head to the overnight halt with an 11.7s advantage. After conceding a handful of tenths to the Welshman in Saturday’s opening stage, he was almost untouchable through the rest of the day to stretch the gap to 29.1s.
Showers and sunshine offered inconsistent morning grip on the superfast gravel roads, while more rain and deep ruts offered a different challenge this afternoon. Rovanpera, whose four wins from the six rallies before Estonia have him leading the WRC standings by 65 points, remained unflustered and insisted his performance was “nothing special.”
“I felt we were driving well and pushing quite hard all the time, but still managing the risk a bit,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say there is much pace left, but it’s not that we’re pushing to the limit all the time. I don’t need to push the car and the tires in the rough places; everywhere else we go flat out.”
Evans’ own run of five fastest times on Friday that carried him almost 20s clear of his Toyota colleague seemed like a distant memory and he admitted that overhauling Rovanpera in Sunday’s final leg would be a long shot.
“Realistically, [29.1s is] quite a big gap for a rally where you need to be consistently chipping in the times,” he said. “This afternoon I’ve had no answer — all day to be fair. He’s been very, very good.”
Hyundai Motorsport teammates Ott Tanak and Thierry Neuville were third and fourth in their i20 N Rally1 machines after drama-free runs. Local hero Tanak, whose every move is cheered by the huge numbers of Estonian fans on the stages, trailed Evans by 42.4s, but had almost 70s in hand over Neuville in fourth. The Belgian had inherited that position when Toyota’s Esapekka Lappi changed a wheel after a heavy landing.
Neuville was under no pressure from Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta in fifth and tested different settings this afternoon in readiness for the next event on the calendar — the even faster gravel stages of August’s Rally Finland. Katsuta had demoted M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux to sixth during the morning loop and edged 10.9s clear of the Frenchman’s Puma Rally1 by end of day.
The 2m30s that Lappi lost with his tire change plunged him to seventh overall, but the Finn continued to push hard in his Yaris and narrowed the deficit to Fourmaux to 41.5s heading to Sunday’s final day.
M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet was eighth, the Frenchman demoting teammate Gus Greensmith, who was also forced to change a wheel after a heavy sideways landing damaged a tire on his Puma.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Andreas Mikkelsen measured his pace to perfection to keep closest challenger Teemu Suninen at bay.
The front-running pair were so closely matched throughout the day that they were split by less than a single second on five of the day’s nine special stages.
Reigning WRC2 champ Mikkelsen, driving a Toksport Skoda Fabia Evo Rally2, won four stages, but also suffered an early scare on the last of the morning’s four stages when his right-front tire came away from the bead. Thankfully the deflation occurred close to the finish and time loss was minimal.
The Norwegian started the leg 12.1s ahead of the Hyundai i20 N Rally2 of Finland’s Suninen and, despite a frustrating half-spin on the last corner of the final stage, that gap was reduced by just 1.5s over the course of Saturday, with Mikkelsen ahead by 10.6s at close of play.
Sunday’s final leg is the shortest but still features a healthy 48.48 miles of action. Two identical loops of three stages lie in wait before the podium ceremony in Estonia’s second city, Tartu. The rally-closing 9.91-mile Kambja test forms the Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points available to the fastest crews.
WRC Rally Estonia, leading positions after Day Two, SS18
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h07m53.0s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +29.1s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m11.5s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m20.3s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3m43.0s
6 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +3m53.9s
7 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +4m35.4s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +6m16.4s
9 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +7m22.9s
10 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Erikssen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2 leader) +8m39.7s
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