The dust has just about settled on the eighth chapter of this 2023 World Rally Championship season.
Rally Estonia delivered juicy storylines from as early as shakedown, but once the competition got going it became clear that it was all going to be about one man.
As always at the end of a WRC event, we’ve picked out some winners and losers from the weekend, and Estonia is no exception.
Have we got our selection right? Let us know in the comments:
Slice it whichever way you like, Kalle Rovanperä wasn’t just a winner in Estonia, he was the biggest winner – and by a country mile.
A second win of the season (and in even more dominant fashion than Portugal).
A third win in Estonia (not bad on what he says is his favorite event of the year).
Championship lead extended (yet again) to a daunting 55 points.
If Rovanperä hadn’t already looked like the champion elect before this weekend, there can be little argument that he is now.
Knowing what to expect from Teemu Suninen on his first Rally1 start in the WRC, and first top class start in over 18 months, was tricky – but to secure a top five and look so comfortable while doing it was a fantastic return.
Arguably more impressive was the Finn’s maturity. He knew he had a job to do and he wasn’t lured by trying to over-achieve – accepting that his two team-mates would be faster.
Strong speed, wide smiles and no mistakes made this a great first outing, and raises expectations for Rally Finland in two weeks’ time where Suninen must be feeling quietly confident about his chances.
He may have lost yet more ground to Rovanperä in the title race, and in fact he didn’t win a single stage all weekend (bizarrely). But this was a hugely impressive event from Neuville.
The context is key.
Neuville and Hyundai haven’t tended to soar on high-speed gravel rallies – we know that. Toyota and Rovanperä were still a step ahead, but this was a clear improvement on the past.
Team-mate Esapekka Lappi appears to have had a big hand in it – he and Neuville seeking similar things from the car and Lappi bringing his experience and know-how to the development table expertly.
And yes Lappi had his hybrid problem on Friday morning, but Neuville then stretched away from his team-mate. With two Finns in the team, he was fastest Hyundai on merit.
None of us really expected that before the weekend.
Possibly the most obvious driver we’ve ever picked for the losers section since we introduced this feature at the top of the season.
Even before he had started competing in Estonia, Ott Tänak’s weekend was over as an engine change resulted in a five-minute penalty. Perhaps on a rally like the Safari that wouldn’t have been so bad, but on a high-speed event like Estonia… forget it.
The M-Sport driver even revealed that on Thursday afternoon he fell asleep in his hotel as that rush of competition had left him.
The saddest part is Tänak’s speed looked good in Estonia. It’s unlikely he’d have been able to challenge Rovanperä given his epic performance, but a podium was surely on.
Now it’s all just ifs, buts and maybes.
We’ve lost count of the number of times Oliver Solberg has found himself in the losers column, but it was impossible to spare him in Estonia.
Leading the way in WRC2 for most of Friday, for the fourth event in a row Solberg’s rally then unravelled.
This time he ran off-line, hit a rock with the rear-right of his Škoda and the damper broke, forcing him out for the day.
Another low score makes his championship challenge very difficult now. Having won 10 of the rally’s 21 stages, Solberg saw the bright side: “Championship is one thing, but it’s better to be quickest…”
But he’d love to have both. Estonia could be the weekend that ultimately costs him the silverware.
With the way that epic powerstage showdown for sixth played out, whoever came out on the wrong side of it (seventh) kind of had to qualify for the losers section here.
But of the two drivers fighting for that place, Takamoto Katsuta had a far more difficult weekend than Pierre-Louis Loubet anyway, even without slipping behind by just 0.3s at the final hurdle.
While Loubet finally had a trouble-free rally and showed a strong turn of speed to overhaul Katsuta, Katsuta simply struggled.
There were no errors to speak of – his only issue being that bizarre dashboard shutdown and then intercom problem on Saturday afternoon – but there wasn’t any good pace to get excited about either.
A concerning and off-beat performance that Katsuta will be keen to see the back of.