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.
“An important event, this one,” he smiled. “For the championship it’s a really important place to get good points and the plan was this exactly. It’s my favourite event of the calendar so I knew we had to push here, and it went well.”
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.
The WRC remains in northern Europe for another fast gravel road fixture at Secto Rally Finland next month. Round nine of the season is based in Jyväskylä on 3 – 6 August.
1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris 2h 36m 3.1s
2. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +52.7s
3. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Hyundai i20 N +59.5s
4. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +1m 6.8s
5. T Suninen / M Markkula FIN Hyundai i20 N +2m 21.1s
6. P Loubet / N Gilsoul FRA Ford Puma +3m 9.9s
Drivers’ championship standings (after round eight of 13):
1. K Rovanperä 170pts
2. E Evans 115pts
3. T Neuville 112pts