Kalle Rovanperä made history as the youngest winner of an FIA World Rally Championship round on Sunday after a masterful drive at Rally Estonia.
The 20-year-old Finn is more than two years younger than fellow countryman Jari-Matti Latvala, now his team principal at Toyota Gazoo Racing, when he claimed the record in 2008.
After fending off a fierce early challenge from Craig Breen, Rovanperä and co-driver Jonne Halttunen stormed clear on dusty and high-speed tracks near Tartu to win this seventh round of the season by 59.9sec in a Yaris World Rally Car.
Rovanperä, who now lives in Estonia, celebrated on the podium with father Harri, who scored his sole WRC victory in Sweden in 2001. Today’s win was the first for a Finnish driver in the championship since Latvala won Rally Australia in 2018.
Rovanperä has endured a barren run of results of late with just one top six finish in the last four rounds, but his maiden victory promoted him to fourth in the championship standings with five rounds remaining.
“It has been a difficult season and it’s really nice to get my first win here in Estonia,” said a jubilant Rovanperä. “It’s almost a home rally for me now and a lot of Estonian fans were supporting me.
“Our results haven’t been so good, but we’ve proved the pace is there and today we brought it home. To be the youngest winner is amazing. It could have happened earlier, but now it’s here.”
Estonia is proving a happy hunting ground for Breen – he has now finished second at both the rally’s two WRC appearances. His only scare came late on Saturday evening when he clipped a huge roadside rock and damaged his Hyundai i20’s front suspension.
The Irishman headed team-mate Thierry Neuville by 12.5sec. The Belgian’s hopes of reeling in his colleague were damaged by a 10sec penalty after checking in late at a time control on Sunday morning following technical problems.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier finished fourth in another Yaris. The Frenchman ended 11.6sec behind Neuville, content to bag solid points in his quest for an eighth drivers’ crown after opening the roads where traction was at a premium in Friday’s first leg.
Team-mate Elfyn Evans finished 43.1sec behind in fifth after never truly getting to grips with the conditions. Ogier now leads the Welshman by 37 points in the championship, with their Toyota squad maintaining its 59-point lead in the manufacturers’ standings.
Teemu Suninen was sixth in a Ford Fiesta, despite a final stage spin.
The championship returns to asphalt next month when Belgium makes its first WRC appearance. Renties Ypres Rally Belgium takes place on August 13-15.
1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota Yaris 2hr 51min 29.1sec
2. C Breen / P Nagle IRL Hyundai i20 +59.9sec
3. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 +1min 12.4sec
4. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris +1min 24.0sec
5. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +2min 07.1sec
6. T Suninen / M Markkula FIN Ford Fiesta +7min 07.3sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 7 of 12)
1. S Ogier 148pts
2. E Evans 111
3. T Neuville 96p
4. K Rovanperä 82
5. O Tänak 74