Sat 29 Jun 2024

Dominant Rovanperä storms to Saturday lead in Poland

Kalle Rovanperä sits on the cusp of a potentially extraordinary ORLEN 80th Rally Poland victory after a dominant Saturday saw him seize the lead from Andreas Mikkelsen.

Rovanperä ended Saturday’s penultimate leg holding a 9.4sec lead over Hyundai i20 N rival Mikkelsen with four speed tests and 63km remaining in which to decide this seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship on Sunday.

With limited preparations having replaced Sébastien Ogier following a reconnaissance accident less than 48 hours before the rally, reigning world champion Rovanperä romped to six fastest times aboard his Toyota GR Yaris and overturned the 1.8sec advantage previously held by Mikkelsen on Friday night.

Tyre wear threatened to undermine the Finn's dominance in the afternoon's hot temperatures, which reached almost 30°C. The hard compound Pirelli rubber that made up the bulk of Mikkelsen's selection outlasted Rovanperä's mix of four softs and one hard. Despite that, Rovanperä made the best of his remaining tyres, even adding 4.2sec to his lead in the final 22km test.

“I tried my best the whole day, and the afternoon was definitely more enjoyable when I knew what was coming,” Rovanperä said. “It will not be easy tomorrow; I think it will be tougher than today. Let’s hope for the best.”

Mikkelsen dropped to third behind GR Yaris driver Elfyn Evans after two stages, but Toyota’s 1-2 was short-lived as the Welshman suffered a rear tyre delamination on SS13. It cost Evans almost 10sec and he was forced to settle for the final podium spot, trailing Mikkelsen by 6.7sec overnight.

Evans could take solace from the fact that he outscored main title rivals Thierry Neuville and Ott Tänak in the Saturday points distribution, collecting 13 points compared with Neuville’s six and Tänak’s zero. The latter, who had already stopped on Friday, retired his Hyundai again this lunchtime in a bid to preserve the car for Super Sunday.

Adrien Fourmaux continued his strong run to fourth overall in an M-Sport Ford Puma, ending the leg 20.9sec adrift of Evans but 21.2sec clear of fifth-placed Mārtiņš Sesks, driving a non-hybrid Puma.

Sesks, who is making his top-level debut this weekend, did well to hold off championship leader Neuville by a single tenth while Grégoire Munster completed the top seven.

Toyota man Takamoto Katsuta remained a lacklustre eighth while WRC2 frontrunners Sami Pajari and Oliver Solberg completed the top 10.

Sunday’s final leg comprises double runs of Gmina Mrągowo and Mikołajki before the rally finishes in the mid-afternoon.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM