Rovanpera closes on WRC title after Rally New Zealand day two charge

Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Rovanpera closes on WRC title after Rally New Zealand day two charge

Rallying

Rovanpera closes on WRC title after Rally New Zealand day two charge

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Kalle Rovanpera is closing in on his first FIA World Rally Championship title after taking the Rally New Zealand field by storm on Saturday. 

A 29.0s lead heading into Sunday’s final leg was the best 22nd birthday present the Toyota Gazoo Racing star could have asked for after six technical stages on gravel roads north of the event’s host city, Auckland.

The icing on the cake was a 46.4s buffer over his main title challenger, Ott Tanak, who finished the day in third after being lumbered with 15 seconds worth of time penalties.

Watch highlights below:

Rovanpera himself was handed a five-second penalty before the day had even started for a hybrid rule breach in his GR Yaris Rally1 on Thursday’s curtain-raising super special in Auckland, but the Finn carved through the pack on Saturday’s muddy roads to seize the top spot by the mid-leg service, before taking a pair of stage wins in the afternoon’s repate loop.

Tanak initially stayed within reach of his rival despite being unhappy with the feeling aboard his Hyundai i20 N Rally1, but slipped out of touch when he received an additional 10s sanction for a second hybrid breach to add to the 5s penalty he, too, had received following Thursday’s super special.

Event stewards ruled the energy released from Tanak’s car during hybrid boosts on Friday’s final test had exceeded the maximum value allowed for that stage, with Hyundai team manager Pablo Marcus explaining the mistake was simply due to an error made by engineers when setting the hybrid unit’s parameters.

Penalties keep making Ott Tanak’s task harder. Jaanus Ree / Red Bull Content Pool

If the top three positions remain as they are, fourth fastest on Sunday afternoon’s bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage will be enough to crown Rovanpera as the youngest-ever WRC champion.

“A great day,” smiled Rovanpera. “I can be really happy with what we did in these extremely difficult conditions. We pushed really hard and I am happy.”

Eight-time and reigning WRC champ Sebastien Ogier’s afternoon didn’t go without drama. The Frenchman, who is only running a limited program with Toyota this season, incurred a 10s penalty for arriving late to the start of Saturday’s penultimate stage, but was keen to hold on to his second-place spot to deliver a solid manufacturers’ points haul for the Japanese marque. That became even more prescient after teammate and leg one overnight leader Elfyn Evans retired with roll cage damage sustained during an off on the first pass of Puhoi on Saturday morning.

Almost one minute back from the podium was Thierry Neuville who, along with i20 N Rally1 partner Oliver Solberg, also picked up time penalties for hybrid rule breaches. The Belgian driver lost third gear during the morning loop, but arrived back to service 1m53.5s clear of fifth-placed Solberg.

Solberg persevered through penalties and mechanical issues to hold fifth for Hyundai. McKlein / Motorsport Images

Solberg’s top-five position came at the expense of Toyota youngster Takamoto Katsuta, who slid off the road on a tight left-hander in the day’s penultimate stage. But the 21-year-old Swede was relieved not to be joining Katsuta on the retirements list, having limped through three stages with a misfire.

Ford Puma Rally1 driver Gus Greensmith had been running fifth, but was left out of contention with a spectacular roll on Saturday morning’s third stage. After assessing the damage, Greensmith’s M-Sport Ford squad confirmed he will not restart on Sunday.

Such was the rate of attrition that WRC2 leader Hayden Paddon rounded off the top six in his Hyundai i20 N Rally2. The Kiwi had 27.3s in hand over Puma Rally1 privateer Lorenzo Bertelli and a buffer of more than two minutes over his nearest rival in international rallying’s second-tier class, the WRC2 title-chasing Kajetan Kajetanowicz (Skoda Fabia Evo).  

Local hero Paddon kicked off the penultimate leg with a pair of stage wins – adding to the four he’d already collected on Friday.

With his lead sitting at 1m38s and no signs of the inclement weather improving, the Kiwi avoided taking any risks in the afternoon, but was still able to further increase his buffer over Poland’s Kajetanowicz

Another Kiwi, two-time Australian Supercars champ Shane van Gisbergen, held third in class in an older-spec Skoda Fabia as he continues to impress on his WRC debut.   

Supercars ace van Gisbergen is showing strongly in his WRC debut on home turf. McKlein / Motorsport Images

Sunday’s finale comprises a new stage at Whitford Forest Te Maraunga Waiho (5.48 miles) and the purpose-built Jack’s Ridge (4.21 miles). Both are driven twice, with the second run of Jack’s Ridge forming the rally-ending, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.

WRC Rally New Zealand, leading positions after Day Two, SS13
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h28m26.3s
2 Sebastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +29.0s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +46.4s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m41.4s
5 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +3m34.9s
6 Hayden Paddon/John Kennard (Hyundai i20 N Rally2 – WRC2 leader) +8m51.0s
7 Lorenzo Bertelli/Simone Scattolin (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +9m18.3s
8 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +10m55.7s
9 Shane van Gisbergen/Glen Weston (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +12m00.4s
10 Harry Bates/John McCarthy (Skoda Fabia Evo – WRC2) +15m23.7s

Check out WRC.com, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a WRC+ subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.

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