Rally Estonia lead duel separated by one second

Local drivers Robert Virves and Georg Linnamäe battle for a dream home win ahead of the ERC regulars


Robert Virves and Georg Linnamäe are scrapping over a home victory at Rally Estonia, with just one second separating them at the top of the European Rally Championship leaderboard.

There were only 0.6s between the two Estonians last Sunday in Mikołajki when Virves grabbed a WRC2 podium at Rally Poland, and there hasn’t been much more separating them at any point on their home roads just south of Tartu through Saturday.

Neither was particularly quick through the opening super special on Thursday evening in Tartu, but Linnamäe shot to the lead on Saturday morning’s first stage where he was fastest by 4.2s. Virves was second-quickest despite a two-wheel moment and a spin in a junction.

Virves cut the gap in a rain-hit Karaski stage, and after mid-morning service won both repeat passes in his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 to end the morning in the lead by 1.5s over Linnamäe.

In the afternoon, Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 driver Linnamäe claimed the lead back in the first stage of the loop, then extended it to 4s with a big time in the second test. He was quickest too in the second pass of Kanepi, but Virves had taken new tyres in the mid-afternoon service and made the most of them to reclaim the lead once more in Mäeküla 2.

FIA European Rally Championship 2024 Stop 4 - Otepää, Estonia

Toyota driver Linnamäe traded times with Škoda man Virves

After finishing third on Royal Rally of Scandinavia, Mikko Heikkilä held the same position for most of the day in his Toyota despite a spin in a chicane in SS7, but Nikolay Gryazin snatched the place by 0.1s in the short street stage in Elva that rounded out the day. The Citroën C3 Rally2 driver is 25s away from the lead.

Fifth-placed Miko Marczyk dropped away a little from that podium fight at the end of the day but is still ahead of Mads Østberg and Hayden Paddon.

Hyundai driver Paddon led after SS1 but ended SS2 with steam coming from the front of his car after landing nose-first from a jump, dropping around 40s. He was actually quickest in the heavy rain of SS3 despite having to manage his oil pressure and get back to service, but struggled afterwards in the ruts and his road position of fourth after having to open Friday’s qualifying.

“A tough old day at the office but we can press the reset button and go again,” Paddon said. “Damage limitation is how we’d sum up today. Started off on the back-foot thanks to qualifying, nine times out of ten we’d have cooked the motor this morning so we’re happy we’re here.”

Paddon did finish the day two places in front of his main championship rival Mathieu Franceschi, who was running only one place further back on the road. Andrea Mabellini is between them in eighth overall.

After his storming debut in a Ford Puma Rally1 in Poland, Mārtiņš Sesks had a tough day back in his ‘day job’ in ERC, complaining of the pop-off valve cutting the power in his Toyota before having to stop and change a tyre in SS9, which dropped him from sixth to 18th.

Jon Armstrong was not far behind Sesks and fighting with Østberg before he went off in SS9 and hit the rear-left against a tree, also picking up a puncture at the rear-right. He ended the day 11th behind Gregor Jeets.

Rally Hungary winner Simone Tempestini was third in the championship coming into the rally but rolled out of the event in SS2.

Estonian drivers are 1-2-3 in ERC3 with Junior World Rally Championship leader Romet Jürgensen on top ahead of fellow Ford Fiesta Rally3 driver Patrick Enok and Joosep Ralf Nõgene in a Renault Clio.

In Junior ERC there are local drivers first and third, with Jaspar Vaher heading points leader Mille Johansson and Karl-Markus Sei. Max McRae was sixth among the Juniors before his engine stalled in standing water and led him to slide off the road.