WRC Estonia: Rovanpera edges Breen to end Friday on top

Kalle Rovanpera ended Friday with a narrow Rally Estonia lead over Hyundai’s Craig Breen as the pair continued an enthralling battle across the afternoon loop of World Rally Championship stages.

WRC Estonia: Rovanpera edges Breen to end Friday on top

Rovanpera produced a dominant yet brave display, with Breen on his first WRC outing since Croatia in April the only driver able to compete and live with the Finn’s pace.

Three of the four stages went the way of Rovanpera’s Toyota as Breen claimed the other test win in a hotly-contested fight at the front.

As a result, Rovanpera ended the day with a 8.5s lead over Breen, while a surge from Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville saw the Belgian leapfrog championship leader Sebastien Ogier into third overall.

Neuville, who lost time to a left rear puncture in the morning, was 53.4s shy of the lead and six seconds ahead of Ogier, with Elfyn Evans a further 15.7s in arrears.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta has withdrawn from the event after doctors advised co-driver Daniel Barritt to rest after he reported neck and back pain and was forced to stop after stage four. Barritt was taken to hospital and was released without serious injury.

Rally favourite Ott Tanak retired after stage three when he suffered three punctures in the space of two stages. The Estonian Hyundai driver will return to action tomorrow along with M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith, who was forced out with a technical issue.

Rovanpera continued his impressive morning pace in the first afternoon stage despite the threat of a storm. The Finn was undeterred scoring his fifth stage win of the rally, pipping Breen by 1.4s as the Hyundai driver kept the pressure on his rival.

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, Hyundai Motorsport Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Neuville was third fastest ahead of Ogier and Evans, who all encountered spots of rain but nothing that would hamper their pace.

The biggest issue appeared to be visibility and dust hanging in the air which left Neuville particularly unhappy. This came after he had to bleed the brakes on the i20 during the road section to the stage.

Rovanpera’s charge continued on stage seven, winning the test by 1.7s again from Breen as the pair resumed their domination of the top of the times.

A sixth stage win saw the Toyota driver open up a 7.9s overall advantage over the impressive Breen.

Further back, Neuville produced a solid time to edge within 2.9s of Ogier in the battle for third overall. The Belgian was only 0.5s adrift of Breen on the stage.

Evans was fifth fastest but admitted he was struggling with his commitment as he sat almost a minute in arrears.

“I didn't have the commitment needed. It got better towards the end, but it's funny how it you can tell towards the end,” said Evans.

Breen responded on stage 8 to claim his first outright stage win of the event and apply yet more pressure on Rovanpera, who dropped 1.2s to his rival.

The Irishman was also not overly happy with his efforts but did have time to wave to team-mate and backup driver Dani Sordo.

"I came over the finish line and said to Paul (Nagle, co-driver) it was the worst stage of the day - I think we need to do worst stages all the time,” said Breen.

"I saw Dani [Sordo] on the last stage - he was waving at me like he wanted me to pull over the car and swap over - so I gave him a wave back and carried on.”

Neuville also maintained his afternoon momentum to overhaul Ogier to claim third overall, while Evans continued to struggle for pace as he held to fifth ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet and Teemu Suninen.

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota Yaris WRC

Photo by: Toyota Racing

The final stage of the day once again belonged to Rovanpera as he took his seventh stage win of the event, edging Breen by 1.8s as Neuville beat Ogier to the third fastest time.

The top WRC runners managed to complete the stage before heavy rain hit the remaining runners.

Andreas Mikkelsen leads WRC2 by 36.5s from Nickolay Gryazin after early leader Mads Ostberg suffered a puncture and a 10s jump start penalty.

The rally continues with a further nine stages on Saturday, beginning at 0606 BST.

WRC Rally Estonia - Classification after stage 8

Cla Driver/Codriver Total Time Gap Interval
1 Finland Kalle Rovanperä
Finland Jonne Halttunen
2 Ireland Craig Breen
Ireland Paul Nagle
57'33.400 6.700 6.700
3 Belgium Thierry Neuville
Belgium Martijn Wydaeghe
58'15.500 48.800 42.100
4 France Sébastien Ogier
France Julien Ingrassia
58'16.000 49.300 0.500
5 United Kingdom Elfyn Evans
United Kingdom Scott Martin
58'32.000 1'05.300 16.000
6 France Pierre-Louis Loubet
Florian Haut-Labourdette
1:00'00.500 2'33.800 1'28.500
7 Finland Teemu Suninen
Finland Mikko Markkula
1:00'22.500 2'55.800 22.000
8 Alexey Lukyanuk
Russian Federation Yaroslav Fedorov
1:00'33.800 3'07.100 11.300
9 Norway Andreas Mikkelsen
Norway Ola Floene
1:00'53.800 3'27.100 20.000
10 Finland Emil Lindholm
Reeta Hämäläinen
1:01'14.700 3'48.000 20.900
11 Norway Mads Ostberg
Norway Torstein Eriksen
1:01'17.100 3'50.400 2.400
12 Russian Federation Nikolay Gryazin
Konstantin Aleksandrov
1:01'24.100 3'57.400 7.000
13 Egon Kaur
Silver Simm
1:01'24.200 3'57.500 0.100
14 Poland Kajetan Kajetanowicz
Poland Maciek Szczepaniak
1:01'26.600 3'59.900 2.400
15 Bolivia Marco Bulacia
Argentina Marcelo Der Ohannesian
1:01'30.200 4'03.500 3.600
16 France Adrien Fourmaux
Belgium Renaud Jamoul
1:01'32.600 4'05.900 2.400
17 Spain Pepe Lopez
Borja Odriozola
1:02'20.400 4'53.700 47.800
18 Mikko Heikkilä
Topi Luhtinen
1:02'24.200 4'57.500 3.800
19 Tom Kristensson
David Arhusiander
1:02'36.200 5'09.500 12.000
20 Georg Linnamäe
United Kingdom James Morgan
1:02'37.600 5'10.900 1.400
21 Estonia Raul Jeets
Andrus Toom
1:02'44.700 5'18.000 7.100
22 United States Sean Johnston
Alexander Kihurani
1:03'12.900 5'46.200 28.200
23 Vladas Jurkevičius
Lithuania Aisvydas Paliukenas
1:04'52.500 7'25.800 1'39.600
24 Fabrizio Zaldivar
Spain Carlos del Barrio
1:05'07.300 7'40.600 14.800
25 Emilio Fernández
United States Ruben Garcia
1:06'16.100 8'49.400 1'08.800
26 Sami Pajari
Finland Marko Salminen
1:06'31.800 9'05.100 15.700
27 United Kingdom Jon Armstrong
United Kingdom Phil Hall
1:06'45.700 9'19.000 13.900
28 Martin Koci
Petr Těšínský
1:07'01.700 9'35.000 16.000
29 Latvia Mārtiņš Sesks
Renars Francis
1:07'17.100 9'50.400 15.400
30 Russian Federation Radik Shaymiev
Russian Federation Maxim Tsvetkov
1:07'27.800 10'01.100 10.700
31 Lauri Joona
Finland Mikael Korhonen
1:07'54.700 10'28.000 26.900
32 Romania Raul Badiu
Rareș Fetean
1:08'25.800 10'59.100 31.100
33 William Creighton
Liam Regan
1:08'50.000 11'23.300 24.200
34 Otto Täht
Taivo Täht
1:11'42.300 14'15.600 2'52.300
35 Miguel Díaz-Aboitiz
Diego Sanjuan
1:12'17.200 14'50.500 34.900
36 Joosep Ralf
Simo Koskinen
1:18'08.500 20'41.800 5'51.300

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