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Race report
WRC Rally Estonia

WRC Estonia: Relentless Rovanpera seals dominant victory in style

Kalle Rovanpera delivered one of the most dominant drives of his career World Rally Championship career to win Rally Estonia and significantly boost his title defence.

Winners Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

The Toyota driver clinched his second win of the season in stunning fashion, beating Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville by 52.7s after a streak of 13 consecutive stage wins.

Rovanpera claimed maximum points after winning the rally-ending Power Stage as the Finn went unbeaten across Saturday and Sunday’s stages. The feat sparked comparisons to when Sebastien Loeb won all 12 stages to win the 2005 Tour de Corse.

Rovanpera’s charge to victory was helped before the rally begun following a five-minute penalty for one of the pre-event favourites, Ott Tanak.

An engine failure in Thursday’s pre-event shakedown forced M-Sport into a power unit change triggering an unfortunate time penalty. The FIA will review the penalty regulation moving forward.

Faced with the disadvantage of starting first on the road, Rovanpera made light work of the road sweeping duties to assume the rally lead from an impressive Neuville after stage six on Friday afternoon. He ended the day with a 3.0s margin over the Belgian.

Rovanpera once again showed his class on fast gravel roads by clean sweeping all nine of Saturday’s stages to take a 34.9s advantage into Sunday’s four tests.

The championship leader could afford to back off but instead continued his devastating form to claim a memorable victory, extending his championship lead over Elfyn Evans to 55 points.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Neuville produced one his best showings on fast, smooth gravel stages to highlight Hyundai’s improvement in these conditions.

Neuville was the only driver able to take the fight constantly to Rovanpera. A slow puncture on Saturday cost him 6.5s, but it had little effect on the overall outcome. Neuville ended the rally with the fifth fastest time on the final stage after losing hybrid power.

Hyundai enjoyed a double podium thanks to Esapekka Lappi, who was able to defeat Toyota’s Elfyn Evans after a thrilling two-day fight for the final podium spot.

Lappi was disadvantaged by a loss of hybrid power on Friday following a heavy landing from a jump on stage two. The issue briefly dropped Lappi to fourth behind Evans, but a string of fast times helped Lappi reclaim the position on stage seven.

The pair became embroiled in an intense fight that ebbed and flowed as the gap decreased to as small as 0.7s, before Lappi ultimately took third by 7.3s from Evans.

Rally1 debutant Teemu Suninen impressed in his first outing in the third factory Hyundai this year to produce a faultless run to fifth, 2m21.1s adrift.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta struggled for confidence behind the wheel of his GR Yaris throughout the event. The Japanese survived a brief scare when his car lost power on Saturday to snatch sixth spot from M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet heading into the final stage. Loubet fought back on the Power Stage to reclaim sixth by 0.3s.

Kalle Rovanperä, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Lumbered with a hefty penalty, a fired up Tanak managed to win six of the first eight stages that would have resulted in a 13.0s rally lead over Rovanpera, had he not received the sanction.

Tanak was unable to replicate the pace on Saturday and Sunday running first of the Rally1 drivers but was able to finish eighth, having started the event in 48th position.

Andreas Mikkelsen won the WRC2 class with a 9.7s margin over Sami Pajari as the pair completed the top 10. Mikkelsen assumed the WRC2 lead on stage five after early leader Oliver Solberg retired with broken suspension.

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