FIA World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanperä will rekindle some very special memories as he returns to Rally Estonia this week (14 - 17 July).
Rovanperä leads the championship by 65 points having won four of the last five rallies as the season approaches its second half on Estonia’s blisteringly quick gravel roads around second city Tartu.
Estonia feels like a second home to the 21-year-old, who resides in capital city Tallinn. It was at this event last year he claimed his maiden WRC rally win - rewriting the record books by becoming the youngest-ever victor in the championship’s 50-year history.
Victory in this seventh round would move Rovanperä one step closer to another record-breaking feat in his search to become the youngest WRC champion.
“Of course it’s going to be nice for me to go back to Rally Estonia,” said Rovanperä. “Winning there last year was a great moment and it was a really strong weekend for us.
“This year we are in a different situation leading the championship and so we will be opening the road, but hopefully we can do another good result there.”
Joining Rovanperä in Toyota Gazoo Racing’s GR Yaris line-up are Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta, with Esapekka Lappi also resuming his partial programme in place of eight-time world champion Sébastien Ogier.
Hyundai Motorsport’s hopes rest on the shoulders of home hero Ott Tänak. Victory in the scorching heat at Rally Italia Sardegna has been the 34-year-old’s only success this season.
While Tänak carries the support of Estonia’s passionate flag-waving fans, his i20 N team-mate Thierry Neuville - second in the points - will also be one to watch. Swedish youngster Oliver Solberg completes the Korean manufacturer’s three-car line-up.
“We need to make sure we extract all the performance and speed we can from the car,” mused Tänak. “It will be a big challenge and we have to be fast out of the box.”
Craig Breen bids to break his Estonia victory duck having finished as runner-up on the event for two years running. He leads a four-pronged M-Sport Ford Puma attack alongside youngsters Gus Greensmith, Pierre-Louis Loubet and Adrien Fourmaux.
Rally Estonia marks the first of two back-to-back high-speed gravel tests for the hybrid-powered Rally1 cars and is followed by Secto Rally Finland next month (4 - 7 August). Average speeds are expected to top 120kph, while a series of jumps will also keep crews on their toes.
The four-day fixture starts in Tartu on Thursday evening and comprises 24 special stages totalling 313.84km.