Toyota’s Kalle Rovanperä took his third win of the 2023 World Rally Championship by a huge one-and-a-half minutes on Acropolis Rally Greece.
The points leader was fastest on eight of the event’s 15’s stages, but after victory on the Thursday night superspecial he was not at the front of the rally again until the end of Saturday when team-mate Sébastien Ogier ran into drama.
That handed him a 2m04.4s lead, meaning he only had to cruise through Sunday (an unfamiliar and uncomfortable concept for Rovanperä) to take the 11th WRC win of his career and his second in Greece. It was his biggest ever winning margin.
With Rovanperä’s victory all but assured, it meant the attention through the rally’s final day was on the battle for second between Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and Toyota’s Elfyn Evans who – like the leader – were in podium positions courtesy of staying out of the kind of mechanical trouble that their rivals fell foul of.
Evans moved ahead on Sunday’s first stage with a nine-second win over Sordo, who then struck back with victory on the next stage by 1.3s over Evans. That Grammeni test was to be repeated as the powerstage, but Sordo would need to outpace Evans by a greater margin on the second pass as he went into it 2.7s behind.
Of the Rally1 drivers, only Ogier and Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi opted to tackle the powerstage with no spare tires. Claiming the points for stage victory was of particular importance for Ogier and fellow former rally leader Thierry Neuville, as both had retired and rejoined the rally outside of the top 10.
Hyundai’s Neuville laid down an early 6m32.412s benchmark, which Ogier came just 0.094s short of, then an aggressive Lappi lowered the pace by 0.531s. M-Sport’s Ott Tänak was next on the road and he put the others in his shade with the fastest time by 1.675s.
Sordo went full attack and was 1.435s slower than Tänak, and Evans was next. He pipped Tänak’s time by just 0.041s, and admitted that “Dani had me a bit worried after this first pass through this morning”.
But any hopes of the powerstage being decided in the closest way possible was dashed by Rovanperä, who blasted through the 5.59-mile stage 2.57s faster than anyone else.
That meant neither Ogier or Neuville scored powerstage points, while Evans secured second in the rally by 4.2s over Sordo who claimed his 55th WRC podium. Rovanperä’s maximum haul means his championship lead over Evans is now 33 points.
Tänak, Evans and Takamoto Katsuta completed the overall top six.
Andreas Mikkelsen claimed his 11th WRC2 win by 10.3s over team-mate Gus Greensmith and PH Sport’s Citroën C3-driving Yohan Rossel.
Mikkelsen avoided his mistake from the first pass of Grammeni where he slowed down his Škoda Fabia RS before the finish after mistaking an advertising arch for the one at the timing line.
There were also WRC points for the podium trio, as they finished seventh, eighth and ninth with Ogier coming home 10th overall.