Kalle Rovanperä has won the World Rally Championship for a second year in a row by finishing second on the Central European Rally behind Thierry Neuville.
It was M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tänak who started the new multi-national event on top by winning SS1 on Thursday, then Hyundai’s Neuville moved ahead on SS2. Friday belonged to Rovanperä, the Toyota driver winning the first three stages of the day to catapult himself into a huge half-minute lead.
His team-mate Elfyn Evans was his closest rival at that point, and in the afternoon loop the stage wins were shared by Evans, Rovanperä and Neuville.
Having lost second place to Neuville at the end of the day, Evans pushed on Saturday to try to move back ahead and more importantly keep his title hopes alive. He won the day’s opening test, Neuville won the next and then the face of the rally changed on SS11 as Evans crashed out, Rovanperä dropped 22 seconds and Neuville moved into a lead he would not give up as he went for his second rally win of 2023.
Evans’ crash meant Rovanperä could back off even more than he already was with the title now all but guaranteed, but he was only 4.9s off the stage-winning pace of team-mate Sébastien Ogier on SS12. Ogier was fastest on the next stage too, then Rovanperä won SS14 to go into the rally’s final day trailing Neuville by 26.2s.
With Sunday consisting of four stages, it was not impossible for Rovanperä to go for the win. But he didn’t need to. Each of the day’s stages being delayed added a little bit of tension, but it was otherwise all rather predictable in dry conditions.
Ogier won SS15 by 1.8s over Evans, who had rejoined the rally, then the positions were reserved on SS16 as Evans went fastest by 4.6s. It was Ogier on top again through SS17, this time by 3.3s and with Takamoto Katsuta taking up the mantle of being the second fastest Toyota.
Neuville’s 43.9s lead meant he was almost guaranteed to win the rally as he headed to the powerstage, with Rovanperä’s runner-up result and crowning as world championship also all but assured.
A 1-2-3 result for Toyota on the powerstage was denied by Neuville, who was the last Rally1 car in and went second fastest behind Evans, while the eighth fastest time sealed the deal for Rovanperä’s second WRC title.
“I am feeling really good! I think this year is for me personally more important than last year,” said Rovanperä.
“The competition was tighter, we did a good job. Big thanks to Jonne, he is the world’s best co-driver and the team is the best as well. It’s nice – I cannot say much more. I’m going to enjoy this one more than the first one.”
Tänak finished the rally in third, only 15.8s ahead of Ogier at the end despite the latter losing two minutes and a lot of motivation on Friday, with Katsuta fifth, Hyundai’s Teemu Suninen in sixth and Gregoire Munster doing a fine job in his second Rally1 outing with M-Sport to finish seventh.
Andreas Mikkelsen won the 2023 WRC2 title, despite finishing outside the top 10, as he won the powerstage with Gus Greensmith spinning and failing to collect any bonus points.
Nicolas Ciamin won the category from Erik Cais and Kajetan Kajetanowicz. Greensmith was fourth.
Adrien Fourmaux however finished as the first Rally2 car in eighth overall.