Rovanpera takes the lead from Neuville in Rally Estonia’s Friday final stages

Rovanpera takes the lead from Neuville in Rally Estonia's Friday final stages

Rally Estonia will be led by world rally champion Kalle Rovanpera on Saturday after he overhauled Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville on Friday.

World champion Kalle Rovanperä is on track to win the Rally Estonia for the third time in a row as he leads the rally overnight on Friday.

The Toyota driver took the lead after winning the first two stages of the day and now leads Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville by three seconds. Despite running wide over a crest on the day’s final stage, Rovanperä managed to survive and finish 0.8 seconds ahead of Neuville over the short 4.7-mile course.

The Toyota driver appeared to breeze through the official groundbreaking of the roads to finish the day with a slim 3.0 second advantage over Neuville. After taking the lead in the rally on stage two, Neuville maintained it until stage six, when Rovanpera overtook him after winning his second stage of the race.

Ott Tanak of M-Sport, however, provided the drive of the day winning five of the seven stages and moving up to 11th in the standings despite receiving a five-minute penalty on Thursday for an engine change.

Esapekka Lappi of Hyundai outran Toyota’s Elfyn Evans during the course of the afternoon to get into third place. The top four were separated by 14.1 seconds.

Teemu Suninen of Hyundai finished the first day of action with a Rally1 car in fifth place, ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet of M-Sport and Takamoto Katsuta of Toyota. Andreas Mikkelsen, a Toksport Skoda driver, finished the day in seventh place overall and in front of WRC2.

Tanak dominated the timings during the morning stages, but his winning streak came to an end on stage five, which went down in gloomy weather.

Tanak set up his Puma on soft since he anticipated muddy settings, but the road surface was drier than he had anticipated. Tanak ultimately recorded the sixth-fastest time, 5.6s off the lead as a result of the choice.

The race’s pace-setter was Rovanpera, who won the stage after slogging through the now-rutted roads amid a few raindrops.

Rovanpera reduced the rally leader’s lead to 2.1 seconds despite the challenging road conditions as Neuville also encountered difficulties due to the wet weather.

After being able to use his hybrid unit again, Lappi proved to be Rovanpera’s closest challenger on the test, finishing the stage 2.1 seconds behind his native countryman. Evans lost 0.3s to Lappi as the race for third place overall heated up.

Katsuta and Loubet, on the other hand, were fortunate not to get into any problems after surviving some crazy two-wheel spells after running wide at the same stage location. The same could not be said for WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg, who damaged a damper and was unable to contend, giving the advantage to Mikkelsen.

On stage six, the overall rally lead also changed hands as Rovanpera won the stage for the second time in the race to go ahead of Neuville by 2.3 seconds.

Tanak, who made it through two challenging stages, finished the stage 3.5s faster than Rovanpera. The Estonian initially missed a tree in a tiny stretch of the forest before saving a horrifying slide.

Rovanpera was spared rain, but the situation deteriorated to the point that WRC2 runners had to run through heavy downpours. Light rain did fall during Neuville’s pass, but it was a fight with understeer and oversteer in the ruts that caused 4.4 seconds to be lost for Rovanpera to take the lead.

The road condition for the penultimate test of the day was substantially smoother, which favored the M-Sport drivers. Tanak reclaimed first place, but teammate Loubet turned in his finest performance of the day to finish third, 3.1 seconds slower than the Estonian.

Due to a minor brake problem, Neuville was only able to gain 0.1 seconds on rally leader Rovanpera. Hyundai celebrated even more success as Lappi recorded the second-fastest time, moving ahead of Evans into third place just before the WRC2 field as a whole was hit by the downpour.

Tanak finished off Friday by winning the 7.7 km Neeruti stage, his sixth stage victory overall. He defeated Evans by 1.1 seconds and then Lappi by 1.9 seconds in the race for third place overall.

In the race for the rally lead, Neuville lost ground to Rovanpera by 0.8 seconds after he was unable to take use of his superior road position.

The rally will continue on Saturday with nine further stages totaling 136.73 kilometers.

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