Kalle Rovanpera completed his domination of Rally Estonia on Sunday with a masterful drive to secure his fifth FIA World Rally Championship win of the season.
Twelve months ago, the Toyota driver became the WRC’s youngest rally winner with victory in Estonia. Today’s success moved him a step closer to becoming the youngest champion in the series’ 50-year history.
The 21-year-old Finn finished the fast, flowing gravel event 1m00.9s clear of Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans to stretch his points lead to 83 after seven rounds, with a maximum of 30 points available from each of the six remaining rallies.
Welshman Evans dominated initially, but Rovanpera grabbed the lead in Friday’s final rain-soaked special stage. After fine-tuning his GR Yaris Rally1’s setup on Saturday morning, he reeled off seven consecutive fastest times to distance Evans and more than double his advantage.
Rain again ensured slippery conditions in Sunday’s closing leg of six special stages, but Rovanpera was in no mood to compromise. He won the rally-ending Wolf Power Stage by an astounding 22.4s to gain maximum bonus points. Such was his overall dominance that he won 14 of the rally’s 24 special stages.
“It was great again!” said Rovanpera before celebrating his win. “Big thanks to [co-driver] Jonne [Halttunen] — it was a difficult weekend, we drove really well. Thanks to the team for making the cars fast and tough. We made a big step on the test to make the car so comfortable here, and we continue to push forward.”
Evans virtually conceded defeat on Saturday night, and any lingering hopes he retained of catching his flying teammate were extinguished in Sunday’s second stage when he spun and dropped almost 10s.
The 1-2 result extended reigning champ Toyota Gazoo Racing’s WRC manufacturers’ points lead to 87 over Hyundai Motorsports.
Home hero Ott Tanak completed the podium a further 54.8s adrift in the leading Hyundai i20 Rally1. He never looked like threatening those ahead as he wrestled handling problems, but the 2019 WRC champ was more than good enough to finish best of the rest.
Tanak’s teammate Thierry Neuville endured similar issues, but kept a cool head to finish almost two minutes further back in fourth, despite a Sunday brush with some bushes and a spin.
Fifth was Toyota development driver Takamoto Katsuta’s reward after recovering from a roll in Thursday morning’s warmup Shakedown stage which required frantic bodywork repairs from his Toyota team. The Japanese driver ended 20.1s behind Neuville, but 35.7s clear of sixth-placed Esapekka Lappi’s GR Yaris.
Lappi’s hopes of a top-four finish ended when he had to change a punctured tire following a heavy landing on Saturday. The Finn plunged to seventh, but won two tests during Sunday’s final leg and eased ahead of M-Sport Ford’s Adrian Fourmaux in the last one.
The result still brought relief to Frenchman Fourmaux after a torrid opening half of the season in which he posted four retirements in six rounds, mostly of his own doing.
It was a disappointing final day for M-Sport Ford. Pierre-Louis Loubet retired after hitting a rock in the opening stage and breaking his Puma Rally1’s front-left suspension, while Gus Greensmith exited after the next test with a transmission problem.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, reigning champ Andreas Mikkelsen got his title defense back on track with a victory after a thrilling battle with Teemu Suninen
Toksport Skoda Fabia Evo driver Mikkelsen and Hyundai i20 N Rally2 rival Suninen traded blows throughout the rally, and there were just tenths of seconds between the pair on a number of the super-fast gravel stages.
Norwegian Mikkelsen led from Friday afternoon and stretched his advantage into double figures on the day’s rain-affected final test. That gap remained virtually unchanged despite a spin on Saturday, but when downpours hit Sunday’s penultimate test, it was Suninen’s time to shine. He gouged 6.3s from Mikkelsen’s lead with a gutsy drive in the muddy conditions and reduced the deficit to 3.2s, teeing up a rally-closing Wolf Power Stage thriller.
Sadly, that thriller never materialized, with Suninen’s car dropping onto two cylinders part-way through the finale and Mikkelsen emerging 25.3s clear to clinch victory as well as finishing eighth overall.
The WRC remains in northern Europe for its eighth round, another fast gravel event at Rally Finland, Aug. 4-7. Can Kalle Rovanpera take his sixth win of the season on his home event? Actually, make that, can anyone beat him?
WRC Rally Estonia, final positions after Day Three, SS24
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h54m29.0s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m00.9s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m55.7s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +3m53.3s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +4m13.4s
6 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +4m49.1s
7 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +5m09.2s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Erikssen (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2 winner) +11m01.8s
9 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) +11m27.1s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hamalainen (Skoda Fabia Evo) +13m04.8s
WRC Drivers’ Championship after 7 rounds
1 Rovanpera 175 points
2 Neuville 92
3 Evans 79
4 Tanak 77
5 Katsuta 73
WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 7 rounds
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing 298 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 211
3 M-Sport Ford 157
4 TGR Next Generation 80
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