Kalle Rovanperä is a history maker. The 20-year-old Finnish Driver took top honours at this weekend’s FIA World Rally Championship event, Rally Estonia. The Toyota Gazoo Racing Driver led the Hyundai Motorsport pair of Craig Breen and Thierry Neuville.
Rovanperä started the weekend strong, taking top honours in Thursday’s curtain-raiser. His pace continued in blistering form on Friday’s stages as he took two of the morning stages and the Rally Lead.
There was no such luck for home hero Ott Tänak though, who slipped to 7th in the standings following a front tyre puncture on SS3. In the latter Kanepi stage, things went from bad to worse. An off for Tänak ending his day, dashing his hopes of a fourth consecutive victory in his homeland of Estonia. Similar poor luck befell M-Sport Ford’s Gus Greensmith on SS4, out with mechanical issues.
Taking the challenge to Rovanpera was Craig Breen for Hyundai Motorsports. He was equal fastest in SS3 and 2nd fastest in SS4. The fight for the lead was tight, just 7.1 seconds separating Rovanpera and Breen after SS5. Championship leader Sébastein Ogier was the best of the rest in third, 33.5 seconds off the rally lead.
Friday’s afternoon stages saw Ogier and his teammate Elfyn Evans do their best to keep in touch with the rally leaders, especially had he not dropped time in the morning. Neuville made a charge, top-three stage times for the entire afternoon. However, at the top of the tree remained Breen and Rally leader Rovanpera. The battle between the pair was tight, just 8.5 seconds at the end of Friday’s running. Neuville was in a distant 3rd, 53.4 seconds off the lead. Ogier was a further 6 seconds behind the Belgian, Evans rounded out the top five.
Rovanperä won six out of eight stages on Friday. Moving into Saturday morning, he set an incredible pace. The Finn tripled his lead in the first stage of the day. The top two were untouchable, Breen having a standout performance, especially when you consider he is only a part-time driver for the Hyundai team. Behind the leading pair, it was as you were. Neuville, Ogier and Evans held their positions in the top five. It was Rovanpera who was stealing all the headlines on his way to make history. He had a 35.7 second lead after SS13.
Moving into Saturday afternoon, Ott Tänak showed his home fans a glimpse of what might have been. The Estonian took three stage wins. His teammate Neuville won SS17. Ogier and Evans stayed locked in position for their battle for 4th. Craig Breen could do nothing to close the gap to Rovanpera. The Finnish driver increased his rally lead with every stage to 46.3 seconds by the end of the day.
On Sunday morning, Tänak showed continued strength, winning two stages. Stage 21 honours went to Thierry Neuville. Rovanperä maintained his Rally lead, with Breen consolidating his second place. Heading into the Rally closing Wolf Power Stage, it was Rovanperä’s event to lose. If it hadn’t been for Friday misfortune, we would be talking about a different Rally winner. Ott Tänak has shown blistering pace throughout Saturday and Sunday. He capped his impressive speed with a blistering Wolf Power Stage, taking five bonus points with a 2.7-second advantage over his teammate Neuville. Ogier and Evans followed up steady Rally Estonia performances with 3rd and 4th respectively in the Power Stage, picking up bonus points for their championship fight. Craig Breen was unable to mix in the points on the Power Stage as he finished in 7th position. However, Breen can be delighted with his performance, 2nd place overall in his attempts to secure a full-time seat for Hyundai Motorsports. At the end of the day, it was all about Kalle Rovanperä, fifth in the Power Stage. More importantly, however, Rovanperä finished the Rally as the youngest ever WRC winner at 20 years of age.
The first Finn to win since Jari-Matti Latvala in 2018. The youngest ever winner. A final winning margin by 59.9 seconds. Not a bad day at the office for Kalle Rovanperä, and he was delighted;
“It has been a difficult season and it’s really nice to get my first win here in Estonia,” said a jubilant Rovanperä. “It’s almost a home rally for me now and a lot of Estonian fans were supporting me.
“Our results haven’t been so good but we’ve proved the pace is there and today we brought it home. To be the youngest winner is amazing. It could have happened earlier, but now it’s here,” he added.
He will be hoping that this is a sign of things to come when the championship returns to asphalt next month in Belgium’s first WRC appearance. Renties Ypres Rally Belgium takes place on 13-15 August.