Sixth outright stage win from nine puts Rovanperä 8.5s clear

Toyota driver starred on Friday in Estonia in pursuit of first WRC win, but has Hyundai's Breen for close company


Kalle Rovanperä leads Rally Estonia after Friday’s eight stages but is being kept honest by Craig Breen, who trails by 8.5 seconds.

Rovanperä has by and large been the dominant force, winning five of the day’s stages outright and sharing another with Breen.

But the Toyota driver has never quite been able to stretch clear of Breen, who is starting his first World Rally Championship gravel rally in a World Rally Car since Estonia last September.

Rovanperä ended the day with another stage win, edging Breen by 1.8s on SS9.

“It’s been a nice day, all according to the plan,” said Rovanperä, who also won Thursday’s opening superspecial.

“The second loop was not so good for us so we need to work on that tomorrow. Here I pushed quite a lot and I had a huge moment here at the finish.”


Photo: Hyundai Motorsport

Breen was similarly happy to be involved in what’s looking like a two-way fight for victory.

“This is Kalle’s stage, he’s really on a different level on this one,” Breen said after SS9. “I lost the tires four or five kilometers from the end but we have to be very, very happy.

“We’re in the mix at the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Two more days to go.”

Thierry Neuville holds a six-second advantage over Sébastien Ogier ahead of Saturday, having beaten the WRC points leader by 5.2s on the day’s final test.

Neuville suffered a puncture on Friday morning so his fightback to third was both measured and impressive, although he does trail rally leader Rovanperä by 53.4s.

“Our target was to catch Sébastien and if possible, increase a little bit the gap,” Neuville said. “It’s going to be a tough fight all weekend.”


Photo: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Ogier was not worried about trailing Neuville though as he did not really have any right to be sitting in fourth place after a day spent road sweeping.

“I’m extremely happy with my day,” Ogier said. “I’ve been on my limit and made no mistakes.”

Crucially for the title race, Ogier is 15.7s clear of Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans – second in the championship – who is a disappointed fifth.

Evans admitted it was “not the day we wanted, of course not”.

“The time lost in the morning [with an overshoot and stall] was one thing but generally just not being at one with everything and being in this fast environment it’s very quickly that time disappears away,” he said.

“The car has the pace to do it it’s just not clicking 100% at the moment.”


Photo: M-Sport

A frustrated Teemu Suninen ran into yet more mechanical issues in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta WRC, but did at least overhaul Pierre-Louis Loubet for sixth spot.

Suninen had been slowed on the morning loop and was restricted again in the afternoon, confirming it was “the same issue as before”.

Loubet survived an off-road moment that led to him switching his Hyundai into road mode to avoid overheating, but made it to the end of a WRC Friday for the first time since April.

He is seventh overnight, 6.6s behind Suninen.

Ott Tänak, Takamoto Katsuta and Gus Greensmith were all eliminated from the contest on Friday morning for differing reasons.

Home hero Tänak led the rally early on Friday morning but a puncture on SS3, then two more when he left the road in a wild moment on SS4, cut his event short.

Katsuta completed SS4 but did not make it to SS5 as his co-driver Dan Barritt hurt himself after a landing on a jump. Barritt was taken to hospital and cleared of any injury, but has been advised to rest, meaning he and Katsuta will not restart on Saturday.

Greensmith meanwhile had been a strong fifth overall before a mechanical issue aboard his Ford Fiesta WRC sidelined him on SS4.

European Rally Champion Alexey Lukyanuk has punched in a stunning performance to lead the Rally2 class as well as WRC3 in a strong eighth overall, driving a Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo on a one-off WRC drive.

Alexey Lukyanuk

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Lukyanuk heads class rival Emil Lindholm – who is 10th overall – by 44.6s with local driver Egon Kaur third in class with a Volkswagen Polo GTI R5.

Andreas Mikkelsen leads the WRC2 class overnight and is ninth overall, profiting from a difficult afternoon for Mads Østberg to open up a 36.5s lead over Nikolay Gryazin.

Østberg suffered a puncture on the first stage after service and then jumped the start of the day’s penultimate test, incurring a 10s penalty.

Mads Ostberg

Photo: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

That cost him second spot to Gryazin, but the pair are only split by 1.8s in second and third in class.

Oliver Solberg is out of the contest completely after a heavy landing on a jump. He retired the car immediately, and will take no further part in the rally as it transpired that the engine in his Hyundai i20 R5 was broken in the impact.

American driver Sean Johnston had been seventh in class but rolled his Citroën C3 Rally2 towards the end of the day’s final stage.

Sami Pajari holds a 12.9s cushion over Jon Armstrong in Junior WRC as the pair swapped stage times all afternoon.

Pajari took a clean sweep of the first seven stages on Rally Estonia but Armstrong nicked the final two tests of the day from the Finn to keep the battle close heading into Saturday.

Martin Koči is third, over half a minute adrift of the leading Fiesta Rally4.

SS9 times

1 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +9m27.7s
2 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (Hyundai) +1.8s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +4.6s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +9.8s
5 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +10.1s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +19.1s

Leading positions after SS9

1 Rovanperä/Halttunen 1h06m54.4s
2 Breen/Nagle +8.5s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +53.4s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +59.4s
5 Evans/Martin +1m15.1s
6 Suninen/Markkula +3m14.9s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Florian Haut-Labourdette (2C Competition Hyundai) +3m21.5s
8 Alexey Lukyanuk/Yaroslav Fedorov (Škoda) +3m45s
9 Andreas Mikkelsen/Ola Fløene (Škoda) +4m04.9s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Škoda) +4m29.6s