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Thu 07 Jul 2022

Rally rewind: Estonia 2021

Rally Estonia was hot in 2021. Very hot. As the sun scorched down, nobody was hotter on the fast gravel than Kalle Rovanperä. With this year’s event just around the corner, we look back on a memorable edition.

1. Record-breaking Rovanperä
Twenty years and 289 days. At an age when many youngsters are embarking on apprenticeships or in the midst of further education, Rovanperä graduated to become the youngest event winner in FIA World Rally Championship history.

He was more than two years junior to fellow countryman Jari-Matti Latvala, his team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing, when he claimed the record in 2008.

The omens were not good. Rovanperä had endured a barren run of results heading to the Baltic country’s superfast special stages, with just one top six finish in the last four rounds.

But the Finn who lives in Estonia turned on the after-burners and celebrated on the podium in Tartu with father Harri, who scored his sole WRC victory in Sweden in 2001. It was an emotional day for the family and for Suomi people everywhere – it marked the first WRC success for a Finnish driver since Latvala won Rally Australia in 2018.

2. King Kalle
The writing was on the wall from Thursday night’s curtain-raising test. The Toyota Yaris pilot laid early claim to Estonia’s king of speed title by edging Craig Breen by a tenth of a second to set up an enthralling battle.

He won six of Friday’s eight special stages but could not shake off Breen. The margin at the end of the day was just 8.5sec.

Saturday was a different story. After distancing Breen by 14.3sec in the opening stage, Rovanperä stretched the gap to 50.7sec by day’s end and eventually came home a fraction under a minute clear.

“Our results haven’t been so good but we’ve proved the pace is there and today we brought it home,” he smiled. “To be the youngest winner is amazing. It could have happened earlier, but now it’s here.”

3. Battling Breen
Breen likes Estonia. He has finished second at both the country’s WRC appearances in a Hyundai i20 World Rally Car.

The Irishman led briefly on Friday morning. He won one stage, tied with Rovanperä at the top of the timesheets on another and finished second in six more.

Such was the ferocity of the duel between two drivers hunting a maiden WRC event win that the experienced Thierry Neuville and then seven-time world champion Sébastien Ogier were left trailing almost a minute adrift.

After falling back on Saturday, Breen survived a major scare on the day’s short closing test when he hit a rock on the inside of a right bend. He was fortunate to limp into service nearby with an oil leak and suspension damage.

4. Tänak’s torture
It was a rally to forget for home hero Ott Tänak. He won Friday’s opening stage to demote Rovanperä from top spot but plunged to seventh after a front right puncture in the next. Worse was to come in the following stage.

“I went wide in a corner and basically I went on the field and during that I knocked off two tyres. I had another two punctures and obviously we had no spares anymore and it was not possible to continue,” explained Tänak.

He restarted on Saturday and was the master of his home roads. He rattled off six straight stage wins in his i20 to show what could have been.

5. Unlucky Taka
Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta was going well but retired his Yaris from third place on the opening day when co-driver Dan Barritt suffered a back injury after a heavy landing over a jump.

• Full coverage from Rally Estonia will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

Video: Rally Estonia top 5 moments