Kalle Rovanperä extended his lead to 34.9 seconds during Saturday’s action at Rally Estonia. The Finn was in dominant form as he won all nine stages today.
The Saturday in Estonia may well be one of Rovanperä’s best days of his career so far. There was no stopping the reigning world champion who started the day with a three-second lead. The Finn goes into the final day with a 34.9-second margin over Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville.
Driver, co-driver and car were working in perfect harmony today, which was evident from Rovanperä’s SS13 stage-end interview, where he completes 3.6s faster than anybody else: “I am surprised about the time. I was not pushing much, for sure the driving was clean, but I felt like I left some time in there.”
Without pushing the absolute limits, the stage-winning times came naturally: ‘I don’t need to push so much. I just keep the driving really clean and the times come,” said Rovanperä after SS15.
Neuville suffers puncture
Thierry Neuville, like the other drivers, couldn’t match Rovanperä’s pace. A puncture in the last stage of the morning loop meant that the Belgian lost 10.9 seconds, increasing the O/A gap to over 20 seconds at mid-day service.
In the afternoon, Neuville consolidated his second place. His advantage over his Hyundai teammate Esapekka Lappi is 10.5 seconds at the end of the day.
The battle for the final spot on the podium is not yet over. Elfyn Evans started the day 1.9 seconds behind Lappi and heads into the final day 7.3 seconds seconds behind the Finn.
Teemu Suninen trails Evans by just under a minute behind in P5 overall on his debut with the Hyundai i20 N Rally1. Pierre-Louis Loubet is sixth, followed by Takamoto Katsuta in P7. The Japanese driver had several problems in the afternoon, ranging from intercom issues to a problem where his GR Yaris Rally1 was stuck (momentarily) in stage-mode after the finish.
Ott Tänak started the rally with a five-minute time penalty after an engine change following problems in shakedown. The Estonian managed to make his way into the top 10 today and is now sits in eighth overall.
WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen and Sami Pajari round off the top 10. Gus Greensmith is in 11th overall and third in WRC2, 16 seconds behind Pajari.
Four more stages are on the programme tomorrow, totalling 61.08 competitive kilometres. SS18, Sunday’s opening stage, starts at 08:09 local time (07:09 CEST, 06:09 BST, 01:09 EDT). The final Power Stage starts at 13:15 local time (12:15 CEST, 11:15 BST, 06:15 EDT).
WRC Rally Estonia 2023 – O/A standings after Saturday (SS17)
|#||Drivers||Car||Time / Diff. to 1st|
|1.||Rovanperä / Halttunen||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||2:05:29.3|
|2.||Neuville / Wydaeghe||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+34.9|
|3.||Lappi / Ferm||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+45.4|
|4.||Evans / Martin||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+52.7|
|5.||Suninen / Markkula||Hyundai i20 N Rally1||+1:41.5|
|6.||Loubet / Gilsoul||Ford Puma Rally1||+2:25.5|
|7.||Katsuta / Johnston||Toyota GR Yaris Rally1||+2:32.5|
|8.||Tänak / Järveoja||Ford Puma Rally1||+5:55.2|
|9.||Mikkelsen / Eriksen||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+7:37.1|
|10.||Pajari / Mälkönen||Skoda Fabia RS Rally2||+7:52.9|
Photo: Red Bull Content Pool