Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera ended up dominating FIA WRC Rally Sweden with teammate Esapekka Lappi third behind Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.
Thierry Neuville grabbed the lead of WRC Rally Sweden in Friday night’s closing kilometres after an extraordinary opening leg in which five drivers topped the leaderboard. The Belgian demoted Elfyn Evans in the concluding snow and ice-coated speed test on the edge of host city Umea to overnight with a 4.3sec advantage in his Hyundai i20 N.
Neuville was fifth with two of the seven special stages remaining, but as darkness fell he delivered his best pace of the day to climb the order. Kalle Rovanpera, Evans and Esapekka Lappi completed a leading quartet blanketed by 8.8sec after more than 125km of furious forest road action. Rovanpera’s equally skilled tyre management paid off. Having led after the morning loop, the Finn lost time opening the roads this afternoon in the worst of the conditions, but careful tyre usage allowed him to climb from sixth to second in his Toyota GR Yaris.
Evans struggled with the handling of his GR Yaris initially. The Welshman snatched the lead by winning the afternoon’s opening stage, but tired tyres cost him in the closing test and he fell to third, 7.4sec off the lead. On his first start with Toyota Gazoo Racing since 2018, Lappi made a stunning return. He led after two stages but a stall at the start of the next dropped him down the order. He found grip hard to come by in the closing kilometes but ended just 1.4sec behind Evans.
Oliver Solberg ran as high as second and remained in the fight for the lead until the closing test when he overshot a junction in his Hyundai i20 N and ended almost half-a-minute off the lead in fifth. Takamoto Katsuta was sixth in another GR Yaris after losing time in a snowbank, with Ford Puma drivers Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith next up. Greensmith had a fraught day as an overshoot, a trip into the snow and problems with the hybrid system and gearbox delayed him.
WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen and Ole Christian Veiby completed the leaderboard. Ott Tanak led after the opening stage but luck was against the Estonian and he retired this afternoon after an impact triggered the warning system on his car’s hybrid unit. Craig Breen was the other major retirement. The Irishman dived into a snowbank early in the second stage. He regained the road but a second visit into the snow proved terminal as his car came to rest on top of a bank.
Kalle Rovanpera led WRC Rally Sweden on Saturday night after a breathtaking drive in darkness distanced his rivals at the close of another fast and furious day’s competition. Five different drivers led this second round of the FIA World Rally Championship in Friday’s opening leg, but the Finn took control for a second time on Saturday morning and fended off an attack from Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans.
Rovanpera headed Evans by just 1.2sec with two speed tests remaining. As night fell, he turned up the pace further to win both stages and extend his advantage to 8.3sec over the Welshman with Sunday’s short final leg remaining. Rovanpera relegated overnight leader Thierry Neuville in the opening special stage and was almost five seconds to the good by the day’s midpoint. Evans retaliated on the second pass of the roads only for his colleague to deliver a potentially crucial blow in the dark.
Evans won two of the six stages compared to Rovanpera’s treble but almost threw away his chances on the last corner of the closing test. He ploughed through a snowbank at exactly the point where the finish timing beam was located and completed the final metres to the stop line on a road parallel to the stage. Neuville remained on the heels of the two Toyota drivers until an overshoot in the morning’s final test cost 10sec and demoted him to fourth.
A spirited recovery promoted him back to third, but he ended 21.7sec off the lead in his Hyundai i20 N. The Belgian had 4.2sec in hand over the third GR Yaris of Esapekka Lappi. The Finn fell away from the lead battle during the day and closed almost 1min 20sec clear of the similar car of Takamoto Katsuta. The Japanese driver benefited from a throttle problem for Oliver Solberg who dropped 90sec after limping through the final stage in his i20 N.
Solberg also collected a 2min 40sec penalty for arriving late at the test after working to make repairs on the preceding liaison section. Gus Greensmith was sixth in a Ford Puma. He gained two places in the final stage due to Solberg’s problem and an engine issue for team-mate Adrien Fourmaux, which cost the Frenchman almost five minutes and dropped him off the leaderboard.
Solberg was 2min 31sec adrift in seventh with WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen, Ole Christian Veiby and Nikolay Gryazin completing the top 10. After retiring yesterday in a snowbank, Craig Breen returned to action today. But there was nore disappointment for the Irishman when his Puma went out for a second time after his car stopped with no power.
Kalle Rovanpera secured an emphatic victory at Rally Sweden on Sunday afternoon to take the lead in the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC). Five different drivers led before the 21-year-old Finn took charge on snow and ice-coated roads. He won by 22.0sec after Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans crashed out in a snowbank on the final morning and leads the series by 14 points after two of 13 rounds.
Thierry Neuville capitalised on Evans’ retirement to finish second in a Hyundai i20 N. Esapekka Lappi, back in the Toyota Gazoo Racing line-up after a three-year absence, was a further 8.6sec back in third in another GR Yaris.
Ott Tanak won the Wolf Power Stage to claim five bonus points in an i20 N. Rovanperä scored four points in second with Neuville taking three in third. Takamoto Katsuta secured two points in fourth in a GR Yaris, with Craig Breen netting the final point in a Ford Puma.
More to come
Here’s full results: https://www.wrc.com/en/wrcplus/live-timing/
Here’s how WRC Rallye Monte-Carlo went
[Note: The above is as per release with no edits made]