Leads in excess of one minute are a rarity in the modern era of the World Rally Championship come the end of the rally – let alone after the first full day.
And yet points leader Kalle Rovanperä finds himself 1m04s up on his nearest rival, Thierry Neuville. It’s little wonder his boss, Jari-Matti Latvala, labeled it the best day of Rovanperä’s top flight WRC career.
To put some more context on it, this was the first time since Kris Meeke led Rally Argentina 2015 (almost seven years ago to the day) where the Friday night leader has headed into Saturday with over 60s in distance between their closest challenger.
That event was famously Meeke’s first ever victory as he edged out Citroën team-mate Mads Østberg in a true rally of attrition, but the hard yards were done on the first day.
Meeke carved out a 1m08.4s advantage via a combination of consistently quick driving and keeping a level head while those around him floundered
Sébastien Ogier, who famously can’t boast a Rally Argentina win on his CV, was quickest out of the blocks on the superspecial stage but was immediately out of the running on the first proper test – his VW Polo R WRC stranded on SS2 with a fuel injection problem.
It was a disastrous stage for so many drivers as Meeke stopped the clocks over half a minute quicker than next-fastest Dani Sordo.
Neuville lost four minutes changing a puncture, Andreas Mikkelsen also picked up a flat while Østberg’s DS3 WRC lost power on the stage.
Sordo then slid backwards on SS3 with power steering issues that had also plagued him on the previous test worsening, while Jari-Matti Latvala waved goodbye to the second spot he had been gifted on the day’s final stage with a similar issue that had blighted Ogier.
In Croatia this year, there’s been a similar level of attrition. Esapekka Lappi was out as early as SS1, Elfyn Evans was out the running with a puncture and Neuville lost his alternator so clocked a 40s time penalty for a late check-in to midday service.
But take nothing away from Rovanperä. It speaks volumes that precisely when he didn’t need to push, he was just relaxed, got on with the job and rose to the top of the standings with a devastatingly effective drive.
What was the secret?
“I think there is nothing special really what I can tell,” he told DirtFish, “but yeah, I think we used the starting place in the morning well and just being confident in the car the whole day in this tricky situation and condition can make a difference.”
The game plan was calculated as well as rapid too: “I was sure that in this condition there will be a lot [of moments]but I think we were actually in quite perfect speed managing the speed and the conditions,” Rovanperä appraised.
“Even on the second pass I just tried to be clean and go around the cuts. For sure it’s slower to stay on the muddy ground but yeah then we didn’t have the punctures and that’s always good.”
Domination springs to mind. But Rovanperä’s right foot won’t be easing off that gas pedal quite yet.
He is aware his gap is “big but it’s not big enough for two days if something happens”.
“So as always we need to concentrate and push on.”