Kalle Rovanperä clinched back-to-back Rally Estonia wins on Sunday afternoon with a masterclass drive to secure his fifth FIA World Rally Championship win in six rounds.
Twelve months ago he became the WRC’s youngest rally winner with victory in Estonia. Today’s virtuoso success moved him a step closer to becoming the youngest champion in the series’ 50-year history.
The 21-year-old Finn finished the four-day gravel road fixture 1min 00.9sec clear of Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans to stretch his points lead to 83 after seven of 13 rounds.
Evans dominated initially but Rovanperä grabbed the lead in Friday’s final rain-soaked speed test. After fine-tuning his car’s set-up on Saturday morning, he reeled off seven consecutive fastest times to distance the Welshman and more than double his advantage.
Rain again ensured slippery conditions in Sunday’s closing leg but Rovanperä was in no mood to compromise. He won the final Wolf Power Stage by an astounding 22.4sec to gain maximum bonus points. Such was his dominance that he won 14 of the rally’s 24 tests.
“It was great again and thanks to Jonne [co-driver Halttunen] because it was a difficult weekend but we drove really well,” said an elated Rovanperä. “We enjoy every rally and although we need to push hard because the pressure is always high, we’re managing it well.”
Evans virtually conceded defeat on Saturday night and any lingering hopes he retained of catching his team-mate were extinguished in Sunday’s second stage when he spun and dropped almost 10sec.
The 1-2 extended reigning champion Toyota Gazoo Racing’s manufacturers’ points lead to 87.
Home hero Ott Tänak completed the podium a further 54.8sec adrift in a Hyundai i20. He never looked like threatening those ahead as he wrestled handling problems but the four-time Estonia winner was more than good enough to finish best of the rest.
Team-mate Thierry Neuville endured similar issues but kept a cool head to finish almost two minutes further back in fourth, despite a Sunday brush with some bushes and a spin.
Fifth was Takamoto Katsuta’s reward after recovering from a roll in Thursday morning’s warm-up which required frantic bodywork repairs from his Toyota team. The Japanese driver ended 20.1sec behind Neuville and 35.7sec clear of Esapekka Lappi’s GR Yaris.
Lappi’s hopes of a top four finish ended when he had to change a puncture following a heavy landing on Saturday. The Finn plunged to seventh but won two tests on the final day and eased ahead of Adrian Fourmaux’s Ford Puma in the last one.
The result brought relief to Frenchman Fourmaux after a torrid opening half of the season in which he posted four retirements in six rounds.
It was a disappointing final day for M-Sport Ford. Pierre-Louis Loubet retired after hitting a rock in the opening stage and breaking his Puma’s front left suspension while Gus Greensmith exited after the next test with a transmission problem.
The final three places were filled by drivers from the WRC2 premier support category. Andreas Mikkelsen held off a determined charge from Teemu Suninen to claim eighth, with Emil Lindholm taking 10th after Marco Bulacia crashed in the penultimate test.
The WRC remains in northern Europe for another fast gravel road fixture at Secto Rally Finland next month. Round eight of the season is based in Jyväskylä on 4 - 7 August.