Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera scored his first-ever FIA WRC win in Rally Estonia ahead of Hyundai pair of Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville.
Kalle Rovanpera laid early claim to Estonia’s king of speed title on Friday by winning six of the eight special stages to lead the country’s FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) encounter. The 20-year-old Finn, who now lives in the Baltic country, ended Rally Estonia’s first full day with an 8.5sec advantage over Craig Breen after enthralling action over blisteringly fast gravel roads south of second city Tartu.
Both men are hunting their maiden WRC win and such was the ferocity of their duel that the experienced Thierry Neuville and seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier were trailing almost a minute adrift. Rovanpera, who led after Thursday night’s short curtain-raising test, won three of this morning’s stages in his Toyota Yaris. He added three more fastest times this afternoon, but could not break free from Breen’s shackles.
Breen led briefly this morning. He won one stage, tied with Rovanpera in another and was second in six tests in his Hyundai i20. The heat of the battle was matched by air temperatures hovering just below 30°C, but WRC pre-event favourite and Estonian hero Ott Tänak was left feeling cold. He won the opening Arula test to relegate Rovanpera from top spot but plunged to seventh after a front right puncture in the following Otepaa.
Worse was to come in the next stage. Neuville and Ogier were left to scrap over third. Neuville lost time with a rear left puncture while the championship leader drove superbly to minimise the handicap of opening the soft and sandy roads, where grip was reduced compared to those further back. They traded positions before Neuville moved ahead in the penultimate stage to finish 6.0sec in front and 53.4sec off the lead.
Elfyn Evans twice overshot junctions. He never recovered the time lost to end 15.7sec adrift of team-mate Ogier and nearly two minutes clear of Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta. A rear left puncture and a suspected water pump issue delayed the Finn. Pierre-Louis Loubet was seventh in an i20, with WRC3 leader and reigning European champion Alexey Lukyanuk, WRC2 pace-setter Andreas Mikkelsen and Emil Lindholm completing the leaderboard.
Takamoto Katsuta retired his Yaris from third after co-driver Dan Barritt suffered a back injury after a heavy landing over jump. Gus Greensmith exited after stopping several times with a technical issue which affected the power from his Fiesta’s engine.
Kalle Rovanpera stands on the verge of becoming the youngest event winner in FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) history after a sublime second-leg drive at Rally Estonia on Saturday. The 20-year-old Finn, who now calls Estonia home, distanced Craig Breen through nine super-fast gravel tests near Tartu to extend his advantage from 8.5sec to 50.7sec with just one day remaining of this seventh round.
The pair fought tooth and nail in Friday’s opening leg, but Rovanpera took control today. He made a sensational start in his Toyota Yaris, winning the opening Peipsiaare speed test and beating third-fastest Breen by 14.3sec. His advantage climbed to 35.7sec by mid-leg service after four stages and Rovanpera enjoyed the luxury of a measured approach during the afternoon’s dusty and heavily rutted repeats.
Breen, for whom second would match his result last year in Estonia, survived a major scare in the short closing stage when he hit a rock on the inside of a right bend. The Irishman was fortunate to limp his Hyundai i20 into service nearby with an oil leak and suspension damage. He had 30.2sec in hand over team-mate Thierry Neuville who had the better of championship leader Sebastien Ogier.
The pair traded times all morning but Belgian Neuville pulled clear this afternoon in his i20 to end with a 17.9sec advantage. With his eye on increasing his lead in the points, caution was Ogier’s watchword and the Frenchman finished with a 23.4sec margin over Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans in fifth. The Welshman had no problems but lacked the edge to match the pace of those ahead.
Teemu Suninen retained sixth in his Ford Fiesta, despite spinning into the forest in the opening test, with Pierre-Louis Loubet closing out the top-tier runners in seventh in an i20. Ott Tanak restarted after retiring yesterday and the Estonian was the master of his home roads in his i20. He rattled off six straight stage wins to show what could have been had he not speared off the road and damaged two tyres. Alexey Lukyanuk has won every stage in the WRC3 category to claim an impressive eighth overall, with WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen and Mads Ostberg completing the top 10.
Kalle Rovanpera made history as the youngest winner of an FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) round on Sunday after a masterful drive at Rally Estonia. The 20-year-old Finn is more than two years younger than fellow countryman Jari-Matti Latvala, now his team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing, when he claimed the record in 2008.
After fending off a fierce early challenge from Craig Breen, Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen stormed clear on dusty and high-speed tracks near Tartu to win this seventh round of the season by 59.9sec in a Yaris World Rally Car. Rovanpera, who now lives in Estonia, celebrated on the podium with father Harri, who scored his sole WRC victory in Sweden in 2001.
Today’s win was the first for a Finnish driver in the championship since Latvala won Rally Australia in 2018. Rovanpera has endured a barren run of results of late with just one top six finish in the last four rounds, but his maiden victory promoted him to fourth in the championship standings with five rounds remaining.
Estonia is proving a happy-hunting ground for Breen – he has now finished second at both the rally’s two WRC appearances. His only scare came late on Saturday evening when he clipped a huge roadside rock and damaged his Hyundai i20’s front suspension. The Irishman headed team-mate Thierry Neuville by 12.5sec. The Belgian’s hopes of reeling in his colleague were damaged by a 10sec penalty after checking in late at a time control on Sunday morning following technical problems.
Championship leader Sebastien Ogier finished fourth in another Yaris. The Frenchman ended 11.6sec behind Neuville, content to bag solid points in his quest for an eighth drivers’ crown after opening the roads where traction was at a premium in Friday’s first leg. Team-mate Elfyn Evans finished 43.1sec behind in fifth after never truly getting to grips with the conditions.
Ogier now leads the Welshman by 37 points in the championship, with their Toyota squad maintaining its 59-point lead in the manufacturers’ standings. Teemu Suninen was sixth in a Ford Fiesta, despite a final stage spin, while Pierre-Louis Loubet brought his i20 home in seventh. WRC3 winner Alexey Lukyanuk finished eighth, despite a final stage roll which almost dropped him into the clutches of WRC2 victor Andreas Mikkelsen. The pair were separated by only 13.8sec, with Mads Østberg completing the leaderboard.
Here’s the full results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
Here’s how WRC Safari Rally panned out
[Note: Due to time shortage and multiple championships during the weekend, we are forced to share the report from WRC press release of each day’s running]