Kalle Rovanperä took a landmark 10th World Rally Championship win of his career with a crushing display on Rally Estonia.
Although it took until stage six for the reigning world champion to get into the rally lead, a run of 13 consecutive stage wins meant his gap to second-placed Thierry Neuville by the end of the event was 52.7 seconds.
Rovanperä was already 45.2s clear going into the final two stages, and as usual gave off a cool demeanour. He knew he did not need to push to win the stages, but he did want to win those stages.
On SS20, the second pass through Karaski, he was fastest by 1.2s over Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi, who was giving it everything to try to close in on team-mate Neuville’s second place in the rally. Neuville though was only 0.1s slower than him, and he was not pushing as spectacularly hard as Lappi was, while Elfyn Evans was fourth fastest.
Ott Tänak, who won six of the first eight stages, was 7.4s off the pace and only faster than M-Sport Ford team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet among the Rally1 runners. But he was in a safe eighth place in the rally, a position he ended up in due to a five-minute penalty for changing engine ahead of SS1, so was fighting for nothing.
There was a gap of 9.1s between Neuville and Lappi going into the powerstage, the lengthy 18.5-kilometer Kambja test, with an identical gap between Lappi in third and Evans in fourth. There was also a battle for sixth, as Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta had moved ahead of Loubet (who had been penalized five seconds earlier in the rally) by 0.6s.
Toksport’s Oliver Solberg was first onto the powerstage, and was followed by fellow Rally2 runners Emil Lindholm, Sami Pajari and Andreas before the Rally1 contingent came in.
Pajari was the fastest of the quartet by just 0.085s over Mikkelsen, meaning Mikkelsen claimed the WRC2 win by 9.7s over his team-mate. Solberg was only 0.5s slower than Pajari, and claimed he had put his tire pressures too high. It did not matter, as he had been competing under super-rally rules since SS5 so not in contention for a points finish. But he could at least smile with 10 stage wins out of 21.
The Rally2 runners going in ahead meant Tänak enjoyed not being the road sweeper, but he was still the first Rally1 to finish the rally and he laid down a benchmark 9m19.5s time on the powerstage.
Loubet and Katsuta were next in and nowhere near Tänak’s pace, but Loubet moved back ahead of Katsuta by 0.3s.
Teemu Suninen ended his first appearance in the WRC’s top class since 2021 in fifth place, his best result since Rally Italy Sardinia in 2020.
Evans knocked 2.5s off Tänak’s benchmark, and both Lappi and Neuville were slower than him. But not by enough to change the overall order. Neuville revealed he had “no hybrid for 16km through the stage” and “I actually had to drive faster because I didn’t know how much time I would lose”. Nevertheless, second place for him was a confidence boost as “I’ve never been so fast on those [high-speed gravel] rallies”.
Rovanperä was last of the Rally1 drivers in, and took the maximum points by winning the powerstage by 2.1s.
Evans was second fastest ahead of Lappi, Neuville and Tänak.
Rovanperä now leads the championship on 170 points with Evans on 115, Neuville on 112 and Tänak 104.