Kalle Rovanperä is just three stages away from his maiden World Rally Championship victory as he leads Rally Estonia by 54.2 seconds over Hyundai’s Craig Breen, with Thierry Neuville third.
The final day is all about nursing the car through for Rovanperä, who put in the hard yards with a strong display on Saturday morning.
Thereafter, both he and Breen have been in conservation mode, with Breen (pictured below) having nothing to gain without taking dangerous risks and Rovanperä having far too much to lose by pushing beyond the limit.
“For sure it looks good but we just need to wait for the finish,” Rovanperä cautioned.
“Anything can happy in rallying so the plan is the same, just to enjoy the second loop also.”
Tartu vald concluded the first Sunday loop, and will be run as the powerstage later in the afternoon. It was a different challenge compared to the two previous stages though.
Based primarily on an airfield before joining the Tartu test that ran on Thursday and Saturday, it is characterized by several slower turns with a far less natural feel to them than other tests on the itinerary.
Home hero Ott Tänak and his team-mate Neuville shared the quickest time on both of the first two stages on Sunday, and the alternate nature of SS21 didn’t reset the formbook; at least half of it.
Neuville was once again the driver setting the pace, 0.1s quicker than Sébastien Ogier who trails him overall in fourth, while Tänak could only muster up the seventh-fastest time as the road sweeper.
Fifth-placed Elfyn Evans punched in the third-best time ahead of Breen, while Rovanperä was fifth fastest.
Breen was afraid he was “going to lose 30 or 40 seconds” as he took it carefully as to avoid any troubles. The Hyundai driver clattered a rock on Saturday evening’s Tartu test so admitted it was a “massive weight off my shoulders” to revisit the scene of the crime and emerge unscathed.
Gus Greensmith was sixth, one second quicker than Tänak, while Teemu Suninen and Pierre-Louis Loubet rounded out the World Rally Car runners both on the stage leaderboard and the overall one. They occupy sixth and seventh places.
Alexey Lukyanuk’s domination of the WRC3 class has been absolute, as the reigning European Rally Champion won the first 19 stages of the rally in class.
Egon Kaur put a stop to that on the previous test, but Lukyanuk has now backed off to try and record a historic WRC3 win and eighth place overall.
“We’re in safe mode now, just enjoying our driving,” he said. “It’s so nice and pleasant so we are still happy.”
Andreas Mikkelsen holds ninth overall and the WRC2 lead, 17.2s ahead of Mads Østberg – who revealed at the end of SS21 that he was carrying brake issues on Sunday morning.
Østberg took a big chunk out of Mikkelsen on Sunday’s opener, forcing Mikkelsen to up his pace accordingly. He lost just 1.5s on SS20, and beat Østberg by 0.1s on SS21.
“He took a lot on the first stage and then I answered on the second one,” said Mikkelsen. “So far it’s looking OK.”
Victory would be his first in the class since the Monte Carlo Rally in January.
The fight for third is continuing to rumble on behind him. Marco Bulacia held onto the position on SS21, recovering the time he lost from an off-road excursion on SS19.
Adrien Fourmaux is the one harassing him and lurks a menacing 1.9s behind, beating Bulacia by 1.5s on Tartu vald.
Sami Pajari remained untroubled at the head of Junior WRC, but Jon Armstrong’s pressure on Martin Koči – who held second place overnight – paid dividends.
Armstrong, who won the opening round in Croatia, moved up to second spot while Portugal winner Mārtiņš Sesks also vaulted past Koči, who dropped to fourth.
Sesks ended the loop just 1.6s adrift of Armstrong, with Koči another 12.7s in arrears.
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) 5m58.4s
2 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +0.1s
3 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +2.5s
4 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +2.9s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +3.1s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +6.5s
Leading positions after SS21
1 Rovanperä/Halttunen 2h34m39.8s
2 Breen/Nagle +54.2s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +1m14.8s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +1m34.8s
5 Evans/Martin +2m04.7s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +6m36.3s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (Hyundai) +8m19.7s
8 Alexey Lukyanuk/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda) +8m57.2s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +9m51.6s
10 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroën) +10m08.8s