WRC Estonia: The Good, The Bad and a rain master

Estonia once again proved why it deserves a place on the World Rally Championship calendar as the small Baltic nation put on an impressive show in only its third appearance in the WRC. Motorsport.com reviews the highs, lows, turning points, close calls and heartbreak from a wet Rally Estonia.

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Top Performer - Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen

There will be soon be a shortage of superlatives to describe Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen as the pair yet again delivered a performance way beyond their years to win Rally Estonia.

This for many is the duo’s most impressive victory of the seven they have incredibly accrued in a 12 month period since a breakthrough maiden triumph in Estonia last year. Rovanpera described his Safari Rally win as his "hardest yet" due to the gruelling conditions but Estonia must rank amongst his most satisfying.

Again, starting first on the road doesn’t appear to faze the 21-year-old with this his fourth win facing this disadvantage. Rovanpera won 14 of the 24 stages to defeat his more experienced Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans by 1m00.9s come Sunday’s final stage.

Podium: Winner Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Podium: Winner Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

At the moment it seems everything Rovanpera does turns to gold. Even when he does make an error somehow he gets away with it. On Friday morning he clipped a rock but it failed to halt his charge.

Rovanpera was at one point 19.9s behind Evans, but the Finn’s mesmerising skill and approach when rain wreaked havoc was the key to victory. When conditions become extreme he excels. His Toyota team boss Jari-Matti Latvala, who knows a thing or two about rallying, said his driver was on “another planet” which is a fair comment.

Granted, Rovanpera had the best of the worsening wet conditions on Friday afternoon but instead of defending he attacked resulting in a 22.6s swing to turn a 10.9s deficit into a 11.7s lead. It provided the platform for a crushing victory. It is pertinent to point out that heading into the event with a 65 point lead, Rovanpera didn’t need to push at all, but this is not in his vocabulary.

This mindset was perhaps best displayed when Rovanpera reeled off seven consecutive stage wins to move into a healthy lead, before blitzing the rally’s final stage held in the most treacherous conditions of the weekend. On that test he beat Evans by a staggering 22.5s to bag the five extra championship points.

Typically understated after blowing the field away, Rovanpera said: “I was quite comfortable in the car, I knew the weather was tough but I tried to enjoy it. There was no talk [with the team] at all we just decided to go for it on the final stage.”

Now armed with a 83 point championship lead, Rovanpera surely has one hand on the title and it is only July.

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Honourable mentions: Ott Tanak, Robert Virves

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak may have finished almost two minutes adrift of Rovanpera in third, but the home hero spurred on by what seemed like the majority of Estonia’s 1.3 million population, extracted the most from his Hyundai i20 N.

Estonia emphasised the gap between the Toyota and Hyundai Rally1 machines. All three Hyundai drivers struggled to tame their i20 Ns that suffered a lack of stability at the rear. However, Tanak produced his best in the difficult circumstances to deliver a well received podium.

The only time he put a foot wrong on the stages was a brief off during Friday afternoon’s downpour that wasn’t helped by a misted up windscreen.

The gap to the Toyotas could have at been closer to the tune of 10s after Tanak was handed a time penalty fo failing to use electric power only during a designated EV zone on Thursday night. Tanak was then handed a €4000 fine, of which €3000 is suspended, for failing to wear a Pirelli branded cap on the podium and during the post-event press conference. 

It would be remiss not to highlight the efforts of Junior WRC driver and fellow compatriot Robert Virves. The 22-year-old ultimately finished second in class after initially dropping from the lead, before falling to fifth after damaging his suspension.

However, the Estonian sitting 90 seconds from the lead issued a stunning fight back to second ending 31.1s adrift after winning 17 stages. This surpassed the record for most JWRC stage wins during an event that was previously held by a young Sebastien Ogier at Rally Jordan in 2008.

Podium: Winners Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with the team

Podium: Winners Kalle Rovanpera, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 with the team

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Team of the Week: Toyota Gazoo Racing

Toyota outlined again that its GR Yaris is the superior Rally1 with a dominant 1-2 finish courtesy of Rovanpera and Evans.

Despite its domination of the championship thus far, Toyota wasn’t completely happy with its 2022 car, electing to unleash an upgrade to its engine and rear wing in Estonia. The planned engine upgrade was a response to Hyundai’s impressive top end speed, helped by a longer gear ratio on the i20 N.

Once again the Toyota proved largely bulletproof and extremely fast in the tricky wet conditions as the Japanese marque showed a clean pair of heels to its rivals. The best Hyundai, driven by Tanak, was almost two minutes adrift of rally winner Rovanpera, outlining just how far the South Korean marque has fallen behind.

It wasn’t a completely perfect run for Toyota as a brake issue delayed Esapekka Lappi’s car on Friday, but once that was fixed the Finn was able to post times close to his team-mates.

 

To add further gloss to the Estonia weekend, Toyota won the WRC team principals challenge held prior to the start of the rally on Thursday night. Jari Matti-Latvala (Toyota), Julien Moncet (Hyundai) and Richard Millener (M-Sport Ford) lined up in identical V8 powered, rally prepared flatbed trucks to do battle on the opening the stage.

Toyota did have the advantage of a 18-time WRC rally winner, but Latvala duly posted the fastest time, 3.1s quicker than Millener, while Moncet rounded out the trio.

“I tell you, I had pressure as I had to win,” said Latvala. “If there was any mistakes I would have been reminded of it for the next 10 years. I think we should move races as team principals.”

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Craig Breen, Paul Nagle, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Moment of Heartbreak

M-Sport’s Craig Breen headed into Estonia tipped as one of the pre-rally favourites thanks to an impressive record on the fast gravel roads. In the last two editions the Irishman has finished second as a part-time driver for Hyundai.

The weekend started perfectly by winning the opening stage and the Ford driver remained in contention until Stage 4 when he was caught out by a medium speed left hander. Breen ran wide in what appears to be a nothing accident but his Puma struck a concrete post hidden in the grass which broke his front suspension.

Lucky Escapes

Before the rally began there was drama for Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta as the Japanese driver rolled his GR Yaris in shakedown. Luckily the crew emerged unscathed and the car avoided serious damage. The Toyota team was able to complete a repair that helped Katsuta to finish the rally in a solid fifth.

 

M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet was fortunate his event didn’t end on Friday evening after being caught out by the wet conditions. The Frenchman aquaplaned into a bank which put the Puma on its side, but the Estonian fans rushed to help push the car back on its wheels to allow Loubet to continue.

 


But the luckiest escape goes to Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg, who produced a contender for save of the season. The Swede entered a jump sideways and was heading straight for a significant impact with a tree, before somehow wrestling the car back under control.

 


Top Tweets

When it comes to multi-tasking Ott Tanak’s co-driver Martin Jarveoja showed off his skills. A heater trunking pipe became dislodged inside the cockpit of the Hyundai which misted up the windscreen. The quick thinking Jarveoja managed to prop up the pipe with his left foot while still continuing to call the pacenotes for Tanak.

 

Rovanpera has proven himself to be master of extreme conditions as this video shows.

 

He may have a team to run but Toyota boss Latvala can’t help himself from spectating his own cars on the WRC stages.

 

Hot Shots

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

It is fair to say Ott Tanak is popular in his homeland.

It is fair to say Ott Tanak is popular in his homeland.

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

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