Kalle Rovanperä captured his historic 10th World Rally Championship victory of his career with a dominating performance on Rally Estonia extending his championship lead.
Kalle Rovanpera won the Rally Estonia and considerably boosted his title defense with one of the most dominant drives of his World Rally Championship career.
The difference between the defending world champion and Thierry Neuville at the finish line was 52.7 seconds, despite the fact that it took him until stage six to take the rally lead.
Going into the final two stages, Rovanperä already had a lead of 45.2 seconds and as usual, maintained his composure. Although he was aware that he didn’t need to push himself to succeed, he still wanted to win the stages.
Rovanpera won the rally’s final Power Stage to earn a maximum number of points. The Finn was unblemished on the stages on Saturday and Sunday. Similarities were drawn between the achievement and Sebastien Loeb’s 2005 Tour de Corse victory, which he achieved by winning all 12 stages.
He outperformed Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi by 1.2 seconds on SS20, the second pass through Karaski, while the latter was giving it his all to try to overtake teammate Thierry Neuville’s second-place finish in the rally. While Lappi was pushing extraordinarily hard, Neuville was only 0.1s slower than him and was not. Elfyn Evans was fourth quickest.
Ott Tänak, who won six of the previous eight stages, lagged 7.4 seconds behind the leader and was only outpaced by teammate Pierre-Louis Loubet in the M-Sport Ford. However, he was fighting for nothing because he was already solidly in eighth place in the rally after receiving a five-minute time penalty for switching engines before SS1.
On quick, smooth gravel stages, Neuville put on one of his most impressive performances, highlighting Hyundai’s development under these types of conditions.
The only driver who could bring the battle continuously to Rovanpera was Neuville. On Saturday, he lost 6.5 seconds due to a slow puncture, but the results were still relatively unaffected. After his hybrid power failed, Neuville finished the rally with the fifth-fastest time on the last stage.
Esapekka Lappi, who prevailed over Elfyn Evans of Toyota in an intense two-day battle for the final podium slot, helped Hyundai claim a double podium.
After a difficult landing from a jump on stage two, Lappi suffered a loss of hybrid power on Friday. A series of fast times helped Lappi regain his position on stage seven after the problem had dropped him to fourth behind Evans.
The two got into an intense battle that swung in pace as the distance shrunk to as little as 0.7s until Lappi eventually beat Evans to finish third by 7.3s.
Teemu Suninen, a rookie in Rally1, impressed in his first outing in the third factory Hyundai this year producing a flawless run to fifth place, 2m21.1s behind.
Throughout the race, Takamoto Katsuta of Toyota struggled with confidence behind the wheel of his GR Yaris. In the final stage, the Japanese driver passed Pierre-Louis Loubet of M-Sport Ford after surviving a momentary scare as his car lost power on Saturday. On the Power Stage, Loubet fought back to retake sixth place by 0.3s.
Tanak, who started the event in 48th place, was unable to maintain the same level of performance on Saturday and Sunday after he finished first among Rally1 drivers, but he was still able to place eighth.
Sami Pajari and Andreas Mikkelsen, who finished in the top 10, took first place in the WRC2 class by a margin of 9.7 seconds. On stage five, Mikkelsen overtook Oliver Solberg as the WRC2 leader after Solberg retired due to a broken suspension.