Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen clinched back-to-back Rally Estonia wins this afternoon with a masterclass drive to secure their fifth FIA World Rally Championship win from seven rounds.
Twelve months ago, Rovanperä became the WRC’s youngest rally winner with victory in Estonia. Today’s virtuoso success moved him a step closer to becoming the youngest champion in the series’ 50-year history.
The 21-year-old Finn finished the four-day gravel fixture 1m00.9s clear of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1-driving team-mate Elfyn Evans to stretch his points lead to 83 after seven of 13 rounds.
Evans dominated initially but Rovanperä grabbed the lead on Friday’s final rain-soaked stage. After fine-tuning his car’s set-up on Saturday morning, Rovanperä reeled off seven consecutive fastest times to move clear of the Welshman and more than double his advantage.
Rain again ensured slippery conditions during Sunday’s closing leg, but Rovanperä was in no mood to compromise. He won the final Wolf Power Stage by an astounding 22.5s to gain maximum bonus points. Such was his dominance that he won 14 of the rally’s 24 tests, increasing his season tally to 45 fastest stage times.
“It was great again and thanks to Jonne because it was a difficult weekend, but we drove really well,” said an elated Rovanperä. “We enjoy every rally and although we need to push hard because the pressure is always high, we’re managing it well.”
Evans all but conceded defeat on Saturday night and any lingering hopes he retained of catching his team-mate were extinguished on Sunday’s second stage when he spun and dropped almost 10s.
The 1-2 extended reigning champion Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s manufacturers’ points lead to 87.
Home hero Ott Tänak completed the podium a further 54.8s adrift in a Hyundai i20 N Rally1. He never looked like threatening those ahead as he battled handling problems. But the four-time Estonia winner was more than good enough to finish best of the rest.
Team-mate Thierry Neuville endured similar issues but kept a cool head to finish almost two minutes further back in fourth, despite a brush with some bushes and a spin on the final morning.
Fifth was Takamoto Katsuta’s reward after recovering from a roll on Thursday morning’s shakedown stage, which required frantic bodywork repairs by his Toyota team. The Japanese driver ended 20.1s behind Neuville and 35.7s clear of Esapekka Lappi.
Lappi’s hopes of a top four finish ended when he had to change a damaged tyre following a heavy landing on Saturday. The Finn plunged to seventh but won two tests on the final day and eased ahead of Adrian Fourmaux (M-Spor Ford Puma Rally1) on the decider.
The result brought relief to Frenchman Fourmaux after a torrid opening half of the season in which he posted four retirements.
It was a disappointing final day for two of his M-Sport Ford team-mates, however. Pierre-Louis Loubet retired after hitting a rock on the opening stage and breaking his Puma’s front-left suspension while Gus Greensmith exited after the next test with a transmission problem.
In the FIA WRC2 category defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport WRT Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) fought off Teemu Suninen’s late charge to take his third win of the season after Suninen reported his Hyundai Motorsport N-entered i20 N Rally2 dropped on to two cylinders during the final stage. Emil Lindholm won the FIA WRC2 Junior battle after Marco Bulacia crashed on the rain-hit penultimate stage, while Mauro Miele triumphed in FIA WRC2 Masters.
Mikkelsen’s victory, plus his capture of three WRC2 Power Stage points, puts him ahead of Kajetan Kajetanowicz at the top of the provisional championship standings.
Finland’s Sami Pajari (Ford Fiesta Rally3) took a WRC3 Open/WRC3 Junior win double. Local talent Robert Virves finished second in WRC3 Junior ahead of Jon Armstrong. Lauri Joona was second in WRC3 Open with William Creighton third.
The top two in WRC3 Junior were partnered by female co-drivers with Enni Mälkönen joining forces with Pajari and Julia Thulin competing alongside Virves.
Secto Rally Finland hosts round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship season from August 4-7.