Kalle Rovanperä clinched a fifth win from seven World Rally Championship rounds with a masterclass display to defeat Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans at Estonia Rally.
Click here to subscribe to our print edition!
Twelve months ago he became the WRC’s youngest rally winner with a victory in Estonia. Today’s virtuoso success moved him a step closer to becoming the youngest champion in the series’ 50-year history.
The 21-year-old Finn finished the four-day gravel road fixture 1min 00.9sec clear of Toyota GR Yaris teammate Elfyn Evans to stretch his points lead to 83 after seven of 13 rounds.
Evans dominated initially, but Rovanperä grabbed the lead in Friday’s final rain-soaked speed test. After fine-tuning his car’s set-up on Saturday morning, he reeled off seven consecutive fastest times to distance the Welshman and more than double his advantage.
Rain again ensured slippery conditions in Sunday’s closing leg, but Rovanperä was in no mood to compromise. He won the final Wolf Power Stage by an astounding 22.4sec to gain maximum bonus points. Such was his dominance that he won 14 of the rally’s 24 tests.
“It was great again and thanks to Jonne [co-driver Halttunen] because it was a tough weekend, but we drove really well,” said an elated Rovanperä. “We enjoy every rally and although we need to push hard because the pressure is always high, we’re managing it well.”
Evans virtually conceded defeat on Saturday night and it extinguished any lingering hopes he kept of catching his teammate in Sunday’s second stage when he spun and dropped almost 10sec.
The 1-2 extended reigning champion Toyota Gazoo Racing’s manufacturers’ points lead to 87.
Home hero Ott Tänak completed the podium a further 54.8sec adrift in a Hyundai i20. He never looked like threatening those ahead as he wrestled with handling problems, but the four-time Estonia winner was more than good enough to finish the best of the rest.
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 Takamoto Katsuta’s reward after recovering from a roll in Thursday morning’s warm-up, which required frantic bodywork repairs from his Toyota team. The Japanese driver ended 20.1sec behind Neuville and 35.7sec clear of Esapekka Lappi’s GR Yaris.
Lappi’s hopes of a top-four finish ended when he had to change a puncture following a heavy landing on Saturday. The Finn plunged to seventh but won two tests on the last day and eased ahead of Adrian Fourmaux’s Ford Puma in the last one.
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’s front left suspension while Gus Greensmith exited after the next test with a transmission problem.
The WRC remains in northern Europe for another fast gravel road fixture at Secto Rally Finland next month. Round eight of the season is based in Jyväskylä on 4 – 7 August.
In the WRC2 category, Andreas Mikkelsen / Torstein Eriksen (Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo) took the class victory at WRC Rally Estonia. The best Estonian in the R5 car class was Georg Linnamäe (Volkswagen Polo GTI R5), who together with the British co-driver, Craig Drew finished in seventh place (+6:02.2).
The Finns Sami Pajari / Enni Mälkönen (Ford Fiesta Rally3) took the victory in the Junior WRC class, who outraced Robert Virves (Ford Fiesta Rally3) driving on his home roads and his Swedish co-driver Julia Thulin by 14.9 seconds, by summing up 24 stages. Virves made the history of Junior WRC by taking one stage win record from none other than Sébastien Ogier. The Frenchman had won 16 stages in one rally during his Junior WRC career, Virves though won as many as 17 out of 24 stages of WRC Rally Estonia.
The next stop is Finland with the smooth and blisteringly quick gravel roads, buried among forests and lakes, which are characterised by massive stomach-churning jumps. The fastest rally in the championship and the one that every driver wants to win. Bravery and commitment are essential here more than anywhere else.