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Stage report
WRC Rally Estonia

WRC Estonia: Rovanpera pulls clear after Saturday morning clean sweep

Kalle Rovanpera completed a stunning clean sweep of World Rally Championship stage wins on Saturday morning at Rally Estonia to move clear of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville.

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

The reigning world champion delivered a perfect start to Saturday’s high-speed gravel stages to extend his overnight advantage to 20.3s over Neuville, who lost time to a slow puncture.

Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi edged Toyota’s Elfyn Evans in an intense fight for third, as 1.9s separated the pair. Teemu Suninen maintained his fifth position (+1m02.0s) in the third Hyundai i20 N.

M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet held onto sixth (+1m19.8s) despite receiving a five-second penalty on Saturday morning for a hybrid boost infringement during Friday’s stage seven.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta ended the loop in seventh (+1m39.1s) ahead M-Sport’s Ott Tanak, who surged into the championship points in eighth (+5m11.7s), following a five-minute engine change penalty.

Rovanpera wasted little time in trying to assert his authority on the rally as clear skies greeted crews for the morning stages.

After a day of sweeping the roads on Friday, the Finn declared his run through stage nine (Maekula 10.27km) as his worst of the event to date. He still however managed to win the stage and extend his rally lead over Neuville by a further 1.6s and issued a warning to his rivals.

Neuville also wasn’t happy with his run, admitting he could have gone faster if his pacenotes had been quicker.

“I am as motivated as I can be, that's for sure,” said Neuville. “The car felt good, just the driving wasn't 100% and the pacenotes were a bit slow.”

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: Red Bull Content Pool

The battle for third overall began to swing in Evans' favour. The Welshman was third fastest on the stage and took 0.6s out of his rival Lappi to bring the overall gap down to 1.3s.

Rovanpera continued his strong start to the morning by winning stage 10 (Otepaa 11.15km), a rollercoaster ride through a series of large jumps, some of which were artificial.

This effort seemed to meet the world champion’s high standards as he pipped a hesitant Neuville by 2.0s to push his overall lead out to 6.6s.

Evans clocked another third fastest time to close to within 0.6s of third-placed Lappi, who was unable to recapture the pace he displayed on Friday.

“Something is missing from my side,” said Lappi. “The car feels good but I am not on the limit as yesterday.”

Further down the order, Tanak reached a milestone in his recovery from a five-minute penalty. Starting last of the Rally1 runners, the local favourite managed to climb into the points paying positions in ninth, which would soon become eighth.

However, he was among a group of drivers that were critical of the severity of the artificial jumps. WRC2 driver Gus Greensmith revealed that he winded himself on one of the landings.

“It's full loose, but quite a terrible stage,” said Tanak. “From one ski jump to another ski jump - it's a massive pain to survive. Not a nice one at all.”

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

A repeat of the two stages completed the loop, beginning with a second pass through Maekula.

Once again, there was no halting Rovanpera’s charge as he repeated his earlier effort to take a third stage win of the day. This time he took 2.8s from nearest rival Neuville, who could only clock the fourth best time.

“I missed a bit of corner speed, maybe I need to attack a bit more and get a bit more sideways,” said Neuville, who dropped 9.4s behind Rovanpera.

Lappi set the second fastest stage time as he issued a response to Evans’ push in the fight for third. He clawed 0.5s back from the Toyota driver, despite feeling that he still wasn’t taking enough risks.

Rovanpera ended the loop with a head-turning effort to win stage 12 by 4.3s from Lappi, while his rival Neuville hit trouble with a slow front-right puncture.

Neuville was able to reach stage end, but lost 10.9s to Rovanpera in the process to dent his hopes of reeling in the Finn.

Lappi’s time afforded him a bit more breathing space over Evans, with his time 0.7s faster than the Toyota driver.

Andreas Mikkelsen led the way in WRC2, sitting night overall and 19.1s ahead of Sami Pajari.

Crews will tackle five more stages this afternoon to complete Saturday’s schedule.

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