The 22-year-old had looked set to bring up the rear of the podium at this 10th round but found himself topping the standings by more than two minutes after Saturday’s penultimate leg when former leaders Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier retired.
Both were sidelined by central Greece’s unforgiving rocky mountain roads, with Neuville’s Hyundai i20 N sustaining front suspension damage before Ogier, driving a Toyota GR Yaris similar to that of Rovanperä’s, stopped after SS12 with rear suspension failure after hitting a rock.
Rovanperä could afford to relax through Sunday’s three-stage finale and sealed a near-perfect weekend with the maximum five bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage. He headed team-mate Elfyn Evans, his closest championship challenger, by 1min 31.7sec at the finish and extended his points over the Welshman to 33 with three rounds remaining.
"Of course, it's a big relief,” said Rovanperä, who also helped grow Toyota’s manufacturers’ championship lead to 91 points over Hyundai. “After a difficult rally in Finland, we needed to come back now, even though we never left. A strong performance, starting first and finishing first is quite nice. We had a clever drive and still a good push here [in the Wolf Power Stage]."
Evans lost more than one minute on Saturday as a result of his Toyota overheating but fought back to finish runner-up after battling with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo until the very last stage.
Sordo had held the upper hand overnight but a sluggish run through Tarzan cost him the position. The Spaniard, contesting his first rally since Kenya in June, lost out by just 4.2sec after four days of competition.
Ott Tänak incurred 3min 40sec in time penalties when a water pump failure meant he was late to leave Friday’s tyre fitting zone. But the M-Sport Ford Puma driver enjoyed a relatively clean run from then onwards and climbed to an impressive fourth, albeit more than four minutes back from the lead.
Esapekka Lappi was fifth in a Hyundai ahead of sixth-placed Takamoto Katsuta while Andreas Mikkelsen passed Gus Greensmith in the penultimate stage to win the WRC2 category.
In doing so, the Norwegian moved 16 points clear of championship rival Yohan Rossel, who finished ninth overall, while Ogier completed the leaderboard.
The championship heads to South America later this month for round 11. Rally Chile Bio Bío returns to the WRC calendar from September 28 - October 1. The gravel road encounter is based in Concepción.