Sat 22 Jul 2023

Dominant Kalle distances rival Neuville

Kalle Rovanperä won all four of Saturday morning’s Rally Estonia stages to leave Hyundai foe Thierry Neuville trailing in his wake.

The Toyota Gazoo Racing star, who led by just 3.0sec overnight, won both passes of the high-speed Mäeküla and Otepää tests to stretch his advantage to stretch his advantage to 20.3sec before the mid-leg service. His gains were aided by a slow puncture for Neuville which cost the Belgian 10.9sec in SS12.

Amazingly, Rovanperä, who opened the road on Friday, labelled his first run through Mäeküla “the worst of the weekend for me so far” as he tried to adjust to the increased grip offered by his later starting position. He still won that stage by 1.6sec.

“I was pushing like hell the whole [of the last] stage to be honest,” said the GR Yaris star. “It's enjoyable in the car. The jumps are harsh but it's a good job for the fans and I tried to push hard.”

Neuville, driving an i20 N, felt he had lacked commitment in certain sections and blamed his hesitance on some of his pace notes being “too slow.”

“I try, but I always feel like I'm hesitating a bit here and there,” he revealed. “On the jumps I could take more risks, but I don't know if I should.”

Addressing his final stage setback, Neuville added: “There was nothing we could do to be honest. We carried on as good as we could. We did 3.5km with a puncture but we didn't lose too much.”

Neuville’s team-mate Esapekka Lappi was caught napping by Elfyn Evans in the opening pair of stages and saw his buffer over the Welshman reduced to seven-tenths of a second. He responded on the second pass, however, keeping the Welshman 1.9sec behind in third overall.

Teemu Suninen made it three i20 N cars inside the top five, gaining experience with every kilometre on his first top-level start since ACI Rally Monza in 2021. He lost ground to the frontrunners and trailed Evans by 33.1sec but had 17.8sec in hand over M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was hit with a five-second time penalty for being in breach of hybrid strategy rules during SS7 on Friday.

Takamoto Katsuta traded times with Loubet throughout the morning and sits within touching distance of the Frenchman. Behind him was Ott Tänak, who climbed to eighth overall despite carrying a five-minute time penalty.

WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen held ninth overall in his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 while Sami Pajari completed the top 10.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 8:30:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 9:30:00 AM