Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen won their third World Rally Championship title after a strong performance on the last day of Rally Sweden.
Kalle Rovanperä won Rally Sweden on Sunday afternoon, 21 years after his father Harri won the event for the first time in the FIA World Rally Championship.
After Toyota GR Yaris teammate Elfyn Evans crashed out in a snowbank on the final morning, the Finn won for the third time in his career by 22.0 seconds. After round two of 13, Rovanperä leads the series by 14 points.
Rovanpera was just four months old when his father, driving a Peugeot 206 World Rally Car, won the WRC’s only pure winter event in 2001. During a fast and intense opening day at Ume in the most northerly Rally Sweden ever, five different drivers took the lead. Early in the second leg, Rovanperä recovered the lead, but Evans remained close behind until his tragic withdrawal.
“I didn’t think we could be this good, especially starting first on the road on Friday,” Rovanpera said.
“It was quite a big job but the team did a great job also and the car was great all the time. I feel so much more confident now.”
“I didn’t feel like celebrating too much now. It has been a really difficult weekend for the people in Ukraine and I really hope they have the strength and hope in these difficult times,” he added.
Because Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier, the winner and runner-up of the Rallye Monte Carlo, respectively, did not attend the Swedish race, this WRC round was the first opportunity for the championship’s full-time field to make an impression in the title fight. Kalle Rovanpera, a 21-year-old Toyota driver, took advantage of the opportunity and won the rally by 22 seconds.
The rally got off to a frantic start, with five different stage winners throughout the seven stages on the first day of the three-day event. Thierry Neuville of Hyundai leads the field after Friday. Saturday, however, was a different story, as Rovanpera surged ahead and never looked back.
On Saturday night’s penultimate stage, his Toyota teammate and closest challenger Elfyn Evans made a catastrophic mistake. Evans miscalculated the final bend before the stage’s soaring finish and crashed into the snowbanks that line the road.
Evans continued on a parallel road and rejoined the stage route before stop control because he was unable to reverse back onto the stage. The stewards gave him a ten-second penalty. Evans started Sunday in second place, but he was forced to retire after crashing on the first stage of the day.
On the Power Stage, a nail-biting battle was eventually concluded, with Neuville taking home the second-place points. It was a doubly significant result because it was Hyundai’s first podium of the WRC’s hybrid era, which had been a rough start for the Korean manufacturer.
Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta and Aaron Johnston climbed one spot to fourth place, earning two Power Stage points in another character-building few days. Gus Greensmith of M-Sport Ford finished fifth, and Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg finished sixth after being as high as second on the first day when reliability, set-up, and tyre issues intervened.
Adrien Fourmaux’s withdrawal on the road part of Sunday’s first stage added insult to injury for M-Sport Ford. The Frenchman had engine problems late on Saturday, and the team was already working to figure out what was causing the problem.