Kalle Rovanpera beat Thierry Neuville to win FIA WRC Rally Estonia in a three-day battle, with Esappeka Lappi ending up in third.
Kalle Rovanperä came out on top of a thrilling battle with Thierry Neuville to lead Rally Estonia after Friday’s pulsating opening leg. Just 3.0sec separated the duelling duo after 133.38km of thrilling competition on lightning-fast gravel roads around Estonia’s second city Tartu, host to round eight of this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.
Hyundai i20 N star Neuville was quickest out of the blocks and outpaced his Finnish rival on all three of the morning’s stages to build a 6.8sec advantage at the midpoint. But the tables were turned in Rovanperä’s favour on the repeated loop later in the day.
The Toyota GR Yaris sensation posted a brace of benchmark times to reel Neuville in, snatching the top spot in Mustvee 2. The Belgian pulled back a single tenth in the following test but was ultimately no match for Rovanperä in the Neeruti finale, traversed only once.
Esapekka Lappi’s Hyundai was put at a power disadvantage when he “jumped too far” in SS2, causing the car’s hybrid unit to cease working. Repairs were made in service and the resurgent Finn fought back to claim third overall, leapfrogging Elfyn Evans in the penultimate stage. He headed the GR Yaris-driving Welshman by 2.7sec at close of play.
Teemu Suninen was all smiles after successfully completing his first day behind the wheel of a Rally1-specification Hyundai. Although he was, at times, left speechless by the raw speed of the car, the 29-year-old set a respectable pace and trailed Evans by 16.9sec in fifth. Pierre-Louis Loubet was sixth in a Ford Puma, a top-three time in Raanitsa 2 being the highlight of his day.
His team-mate and home favourite Ott Tänak would have been leading the rally on outright pace. However, the Estonian was dealt a five-minute time penalty prior to the start because his M-Sport Ford team carried out an engine replacement after the car developed an issue during Thursday’s shakedown. Takamoto Katsuta lacked confidence in his Toyota and languished 16.7sec back from Loubet in seventh overall as a consequence. Behind him was WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen, who led fellow Rally2 drivers Gus Greensmith and Sami Pajari overnight.
Kalle Rovanperä took a huge stride towards his third consecutive Rally Estonia victory with a supreme performance at the Baltic fixture on Saturday. The 22-year-old, who became the youngest WRC event winner in history on the country’s superfast gravel roads two years ago, reeled off nine consecutive benchmark times to demoralise Hyundai rival and early leader Thierry Neuville.
Reigning champion Rovanperä relegated Neuville early on Friday afternoon and started this penultimate leg with a 3.0sec advantage. Inspired by the cleaner line offered by his later starting position, he was simply untouchable. The Finn outpaced Neuville on every single stage to stretch his advantage to 34.9sec, his Saturday surge strengthened further when the Hyundai i20 N driver sustained a slow puncture in Otepää 2.
He stands to extend his FIA World Rally Championship lead at this eighth round barring any major dramas through Sunday’s finale. Neuville admitted he had been too hesitant in the morning’s opening pair of stages but still posted second-best times on five occasions. He conceded that overhauling Rovanperä in the closing four speed tests would be a long shot.
Esapekka Lappi completed the podium 10.5sec behind team-mate Neuville after a thrilling day-long battle with Elfyn Evans. Evans, driving a GR Yaris, had reduced Lappi’s buffer to just seven-tenths of a second by the day’s midpoint but fell to 7.3sec behind the charging Finn over the course of the afternoon.
Teemu Suninen continued his trouble-free i20 N Rally1 debut to hold a distant fifth overall, 48.8sec back from Welshman Evans. Behind him, M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet was a further 44.0sec in arrears and collected a five-second time penalty for breaching hybrid strategy rules on Friday.
Seventh-placed Takamoto Katsuta moved to within 7.0sec of Loubet despite having a scare when his Toyota refused to restart at the finish line of Kanepi 1. Penalty-hit Ott Tänak, meanwhile, climbed to eighth overall on home soil. Andreas Mikkelsen is on course to claim his second WRC2 triumph of the season and held ninth overall in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 while Sami Pajari completed the top 10 in his similar car.
Kalle Rovanperä secured his third consecutive Rally Estonia triumph on Sunday afternoon with a masterclass drive at the FIA World Rally Championship’s eighth round. Two years ago Rovanperä became the WRC’s youngest rally winner on the country’s ultra-fast special stages. He leaves Estonia 55 points clear at the top of the championship standings after today’s dominant success moved him another step closer to claiming back-to-back world titles.
The 22-year-old Finn finished the four-day gravel road fixture 52.7sec ahead of Hyundai i20 N foe Thierry Neuville, who initially led after Friday’s opening loop. He seized the top spot later that day before reeling off nine consecutive fastest times on Saturday to exert his supremacy. The forecasted rain did not materialise in Sunday’s closing leg where Rovanperä again remained untouchable, winning all four speed tests in his Toyota GR Yaris and gaining maximum Wolf Power Stage bonus points in the process.
Such was his dominance that he won 15 of the rally’s 21 special stages. Neuville virtually conceded defeat by Saturday night but was in high spirits after enjoying one of the strongest fast gravel rally performances of his career. He could not afford to cruise through Sunday, though, with team-mate Esapekka Lappi completing the podium just 6.8sec behind after more than 300km of competition.
Lappi’s result marked his fourth top-three finish for Hyundai Motorsport, which now trails Toyota Gazoo Racing by 57 points in the manufacturers’ title race. He and Toyota-driving Welshman Elfyn Evans were closely matched with only 7.3sec separating them at the final control. Teemu Suninen made it three Hyundais in the top five, finishing over one-minute back from Evans after a faultless drive on his i20 N Rally1 debut
Behind him was Pierre-Louis Loubet, who shaded Takamoto Katsuta in the Wolf Power Stage to claim sixth overall. Loubet’s M-Sport Ford team-mate Ott Tänak was the pre-event favourite but his hopes of a home victory were squashed before the rally had even started. Issues in Thursday’s shakedown forced a last-minute engine change and landed him a five-minute penalty before the opening stage.
He now trails Rovanperä by 66 points with five rounds remaining. Andreas Mikkelsen maintained his lead in the WRC2 category and finished ninth in the overall standings. Sami Pajari, campaigning a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 similar to that of Mikkelsen’s, completed the top 10.
Here’s WRC Rally Estonia results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
[Note: The story is as per press release]