Kalle Rovanperä took a giant step towards his fifth win in six FIA World Rally Championship rounds with a superlative performance on Rally Estonia’s second leg Saturday.
The 21-year-old Finn, who became the youngest event winner in history in Estonia 12 months ago, reeled off seven consecutive fastest times to demoralise Toyota team-mate and early leader Elfyn Evans.
Co-driven by Jonne Halttunen, Rovanperä relegated Evans on Friday’s final stage to reach the overnight halt with an advantage of 11.7s. After conceding a handful of tenths to the Welshman on Saturday’s opening test, he was almost untouchable through the rest of the day to stretch the gap to 29.1s.
Showers and sunshine meant for inconsistent morning grip on the superfast gravel roads while more rain and deep ruts offered a different challenge this afternoon. The Toyota Gazoo Racing driver remained unflustered and insisted his performance was nothing special.
“I felt we were driving well and pushing quite hard all the time but still managing the risk a bit,” he explained. “I wouldn’t say there is much pace left but it’s not pushing to the limit all the time. I don’t need to push the car and the tyres in the rough places, everywhere else we go flat out.”
Evans’ own run of five fastest times on Friday that carried him almost 20s clear of his GR Yaris Rally1-driving colleague were a distant memory and he admitted overhauling Rovanperä during Sunday’s final leg would be a long-shot.
“Realistically it’s quite a big gap for a rally where you need to be consistently chipping in the times,” he said. “This afternoon I have had no answer, all day to be fair. He’s been very, very good.”
Hyundai i20 N Rally1 team-mates Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville were third and fourth after drama-free days. Tänak trails Evans by 42.4s and has almost 70s in hand over the Belgian, who inherited the position when Esapekka Lappi changed a wheel after a heavy landing.
Neuville was under no pressure from Takamoto Katsuta in fifth and tested different settings this afternoon. Katsuta, driving another GR Yaris, demoted Adrien Fourmaux to sixth this morning and edged 10.9s clear of the Ford Puma Rally1 man.
Lappi plunged to seventh after losing 2m30s with his tyre change but narrowed the deficit to Fourmaux by almost 30s to 41.5s over the rest of the day.
Pierre-Louis Loubet is eighth, the Frenchman demoting Puma team-mate Gus Greensmith, who also changed a wheel after a heavy sideways landing damaged the tyre.
Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport WRT Škoda Fabia Rally2 Evo) leads Hyundai Motorsport N’s Teemu Suninen in the chase for FIA WRC2 honours with FIA WRC2 Junior leader Marco Bulacia third. Mauro Miele leads FIA WRC2 Masters.
Ford Fiesta Rally3-driving Sami Pajari leads Jon Armstrong in FIA WRC3 Junior and heads Lauri Joona in WRC3 Open.
Rally Estonia’s deciding leg today is the shortest of the rally but still features a healthy 77.98 kilometres of action. Two identical loops of three stages lie in wait before the podium ceremony in Tartu. The rally-closing Kambja test from 14h18 local time forms the Wolf Power Stage, with bonus points available to the fastest crews.