Kalle Rovanperä powers Rally Poland victory

Kalle Rovanperä powers Rally Poland victory

Finn defies all odds to win the WRC’s seventh round on Sunday.
 
Kalle Rovanperä claimed one of the most remarkable victories in FIA World Rally Championship history at ORLEN 80th Rally Poland on Sunday.

 

Reigning world champion Rovanperä, who is undertaking a selected programme of events in 2024, had never even planned to start this rally but was called upon by his Toyota GAZOO Racing team to replace Sébastien Ogier at the final hour. Ogier was sidelined by an accident during reconnaissance on Tuesday, leaving Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen with less than 48 hours to ready themselves.

 

Those frantic preparations didn’t seem to affect the Finn too much as he romped to his 13th career victory behind the wheel of a GR Yaris Rally1, heading team-mate Elfyn Evans by 28.3sec in a Toyota 1-2 after Hyundai rival Andreas Mikkelsen plummeted down the order on Sunday.

 

Rovanperä began the final leg 9.4sec in front of Mikkelsen, but the Hyundai driver’s bid for a second Rally Poland victory was foiled when he crawled to the end of the opening stage with a tyre off the rim. He tumbled to sixth by the finish as M-Sport Ford man Adrien Fourmaux completed the podium 14.4sec behind Evans.

 

“It’s been quite an amazing week,” smiled Rovanperä. “Definitely I have to say we have been working quite hard and we are really tired now. I think the best thing is we came here, and it was not a bad idea to come. We helped the team a lot and took a lot of points for the manufacturers’ championship, so we didn’t waste our time."

 

Mikkelsen was chasing his first victory since 2016 and led through Friday before slipping behind Rovanperä in the penultimate leg. The flailing rubber ripped his i20 N car’s rear wheel arch apart and the Norwegian chose to cruise through the closing stages.

 

“It was sad what happened today,” he said. “We were really unlucky. The right thing to do [after that] was to bring the car back for the team.”

 

The four-day rally was blessed with hot weather throughout and provided edge-of-the-seat drama as drivers traded tenths of a second on blisteringly fast roads.

 

Barring a tyre delamination on Saturday and a slow puncture in the finale, Evans fared well compared with his main title rivals. The Welshman overtook Ott Tänak to reclaim second in the drivers’ championship and cut Thierry Neuville’s lead to 15 points with six rounds remaining.

 

An unavoidable impact forced Tänak’s retirement on Friday morning but he restarted on the following days and was able to salvage 11 points from Super Sunday. His Hyundai colleague Neuville, meanwhile, won the Wolf Power Stage but finished fourth after sweeping the road clear of loose stones on Friday.

 

Puma star Fourmaux, who scored his third podium of the season, ended the rally 28.1sec clear of Belgium’s Neuville while Latvia’s Mārtiņš Sesks delivered a mighty fifth-place finish on his top-flight debut. Sesks, who ran as high as second early in the event, was driving a non-hybrid Puma but will upgrade to a full-spec car for his home round next month.

 

Mikkelsen limped home over two minutes back from Rovanperä in sixth ahead of Grégoire Munster and Takamoto Katsuta. Ninth place went to Sami Pajari, winner of the WRC2 category, while Oliver Solberg capitalised on a puncture for Robert Virves to sneak into the top 10.

 

The WRC’s summer speedfest continues next month at Tet Rally Latvia, a brand-new round for the championship, which is based in Liepāja from 18 - 21 July.

Overall classification:
1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris 2h 37m 7.6s
2. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota GR Yaris +28.3s
3. A Fourmaux / A Coria FRA Ford Puma +42.7s
4. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +1m 10.8s
5. M Sesks / R Francis LVA Ford Puma +1m 47.0s
6. A Mikkelsen / T Eriksen NOR Hyundai i20 N +2m 16.6s

Drivers' Championship standings (after round 7 of 13):
1. T Neuville 136
2. E Evans 121
3. O Tänak 115


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