Rovanperä leads Neuville overnight in Estonia

The world champion holds a three-second advantage, with Lappi third and Evans fourth


World champion Kalle Rovanperä is on course for his third consecutive Rally Estonia victory as he leads the event overnight on Friday.

The Toyota driver holds a three-second advantage over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, after taking the lead by winning the afternoon’s first two stages. Rovanperä survived a moment on the day’s final stage when he ran wide over a crest, but was still 0.8s faster than Neuville through the short 4.7-mile test.

“The only moment of the day, so not so bad day overall,” said Rovanperä. “A bit disappointed I lost a lot of time going wide on this one corner but it’s not so bad. I tried to push a bit back in the first loop when it’s never easy. It was, I would say, quite good day overall.”

Well known for his discomfort on fast gravel stages, Neuville was very happy with his performance over the day. “We’re happy to be in the rhythm, that’s the most important for us,” he said.

“And a good feeling in the car as well, so that was the positive point of today. Tomorrow is another day. We should have a good road position, so looking forward to the battle with the others.”

Another 9.2s further back, Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Esapekka Lappi heads a title battle for third with Toyota driver Elfyn Evans. Lappi was hampered through the morning by losing his hybrid on the first stage, but was able to keep in touch and then overhaul Evans in the afternoon.

“Pretty good [day], looking forward to tomorrow,” summarised Lappi, who is just 1.9s ahead of Evans overnight.

Evans, who felt more comfortable in his car after changing the rear differential at service, closed the gap by 0.8s on the day’s final stage. “It felt like a pretty decent run, no drama, so all good,” he said.

The third Hyundai of Teemu Suninen ran in fifth position throughout the day on his first event in Rally1 machinery. He is almost 20s behind Evans, but 15s clear of sixth-placed Pierre-Louis Loubet.

“I think it’s been a really good day for us,” said Suninen. “A lot of learning, but still I know I have to take a step a forward with the driving to be equal with team-mates. But I know it’s coming and that’s the main thing for me. It’s been an amazing day with this car and with this team.”

M-Sport driver Loubet was able to up his pace during the afternoon to pull further clear of Toyota’s third driver, Takamoto Katsuta, by 14.8s. Katsuta on the other hand was not happy with his performance, stating: “I need to improve.”

Loubet’s team-mate, home driver Ott Tänak, added to his Thursday night stage win with another five fastest times through Friday. But his penalty for an engine change leaves him nearly five minutes behind Rovanperä in 11th overall; without the penalty, Tänak would lead by 13s.

“Obviously if you’re not fighting for the rally [win] it’s been tricky,” admitted Tänak. “It was hard, let’s say, start of the day, and my mood hasn’t been the best. But slowly, slowly getting used to it, so it’s not too bad at the moment. The support is massive, so that’s why we keep pushing.”

Andreas Mikkelsen leads WRC2 overnight, taking over the top spot from Oliver Solberg who retired on the first stage of the afternoon when he ran wide and broke his rear-right wheel.

Words:Mark Paulson