TARTU (Estonia) — World rally champion Kalle Rovanpera swept all of the nine stages of the Rally of Estonia as the Toyota driver opened up a huge gap on Hyundai rival Thierry Neuville.
“I enjoyed a lot, it was really good,” said the 22-year-old Rovanpera who has already won nine races in his short career.
“The car is going very well and these are my favourite stages on the calendar, so why not go all out?”
The Finn has a 34.9-sec lead over Neuville whose Hyundai teammate Esapekka Lappi is in third place, 10 seconds behind.
“I think we drove the car to its maximum most of the time but it still lacks a bit to be as fast as Kalle,” said Neuville according to AFP.
Elfyn Evans, in another Toyota, is fourth, 7.3 seconds behind Lappi.
After a clean sweep of the morning’s four stages, Rovanpera’s relentless pace showed no signs of abating when the action resumed later.
The Toyota driver notched up his fifth consecutive fastest time in Stage 13 (11.73km) with a time 3.6s faster than his nearest rival Neuville. It was a result that came as a surprise to the rally leader.
Outside of the battle for the podium places, Tanak’s pass through the stage was hampered by a steering rack issue that he claimed stemmed from mistake made during the midday service. He was able to rectify the geometry of his Puma before stage 14 (16.48km).
Rovanpera extended his stage winning streak in Kanepi with yet another mesmerising performance. Neuville had posted a benchmark that seemed a contender to challenge for a stage win before Rovanpera blew that out of the water by 3.8s to extend his rally lead to 27.7s.
Lappi once again had the edge over Evans to put 3.7s between himself and the Welshman as the fight for third overall continued.
There was however drama for Loubet and Katsuta, who were involved in a battle for fifth overall.
Loubet was forced to complete the stage without hybrid power which helped Katsuta the gap between the pair to 6.7s. Loubet was able to see assistance to restore his hybrid power at the following regroup.
Although as Katsuta reached the stage end there was panic etched over his face when his GR Yaris appeared to be stuck in stage mode, before the car lost power completely at the time control.
Luckily he was able to fire the car up again after he and co-driver Aaron Johnston pushed the car out of the control zone.
Katsuta was back up to speed for stage 15 after revealing that he had suffered myriad issues including an intercom problem that prompted the Japanese to switch crash helmets with Johnston.
But it was his rally leading team-mate Rovanpera that continued to claim the headlines in the second pass through Elva.
However, Lappi dug deep to fight back on the following test, Stage 16, to post a time 2.9s faster than Evans to push the margin back out to 5.6s.
It was Rovanpera at the top of the timesheets as he continued his masterclass display by racking up an eighth stage win in a row by 2.7s from Neuville, who had a brief glance with an embankment during his run.