Estonia WRC: Rovanpera leads Friday morning loop, Tanak drops out

Kalle Rovanpera emerged from an incident-packed morning loop of stages with the Rally Estonia lead after pre-event favourite Ott Tanak retired from his home World Rally Championship round.

Estonia WRC: Rovanpera leads Friday morning loop, Tanak drops out

Toyota driver Rovanpera won three of the four stages to open up a 4.8s lead over Hyundai’s Craig Breen, who was twice awarded notional stage times by officials.

Breen was held up by dust created from a slowing Gus Greensmith, whose M-Sport Ford had a technical issue, and on the following stage he was slowed by a marshal standing in the middle of the road to warn him that Greensmith had pulled off the road.

Tanak had taken the overnight lead from Rovanpera by winning the first stage of the day, but suffered a right front puncture on the next test.

The Estonian’s day went from bad to worse on the following stage when he suffered another two punctures that put him out for the day.

“Unfortunately, we are forced to retire today, as we got two punctures. Hyundai will fix the car and we will continue tomorrow,” said the 2020 event winner.

Championship leader Sebastien Ogier opened the road and ended the morning third overall, 33.5s adrift of Rovanpera, but ahead of Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) and fellow Toyota driver Elfyn Evans, who lost time on the second stage after overshooting two junctions.

It proved to be a morning of attrition as Greensmith and Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota) were forced to retire, the latter forced to withdraw while lying third on stage five after his co-driver Dan Barritt sustained neck and back pain. The Briton has been transferred to hospital as a precaution.

Tanak outlined his event favourite status by producing an impressive drive to win the first stage of the day, held in 27°C heat, while Breen took advantage of his favourable road position on his first outing in the third Hyundai since Croatia in April to end the stage only 1.1s adrift of the home hero.

With overnight leader Rovanpera third fastest, Tanak took the overall rally lead by 0.3s from Breen.

The next test, a run through the 17km run through Otepaa, proved a dramatic one, as Tanak suffered a front-right puncture halfway through the stage.

Despite losing plenty of bodywork that was ripped away by the delaminated tyre, he reached the stage finish, but dropped to seventh overall, and lost more than 20s to Rovanpera and Breen, who shared the fastest time.

Breen was awarded the stage time set by Rovanpera from officials after the Irishman was hampered by Greensmith, who suffered throttle response issues but did make it to the stage end after pulling off the road.

At this point, Breen held a one-second lead over Rovanpera. Ogier continued to impress despite sweeping the road to end up third, ahead of Neuville and Katsuta.

Rovanpera regained the outright lead after winning the next stage, which was the downfall of Tanak.

After fitting his only spare tyre, Tanak ran wide at a fast right-hander, which resulted in an excursion through a field before rejoining the road. However, he picked up another two punctures and stopped on an access road.

At the front, Rovanpera took the stage win by 3.5s from Breen, the latter believing he could have won the test had a marshal not slowed him down. He was given a notional time, 0.2s slower than Rovanpera for the time loss, which he believed was unnecessary.

Katsuta ended the stage third ahead of Evans, Ogier and Neuville, the latter suffering a left-rear puncture along with M-Sport Ford’s Suninen, who also slowed with a mechanical problem.

Rovanpera continued his impressive run to win the final stage of the morning by 4.6s from Breen, with Evans third.

The rally will continue with a second pass through the morning stages this afternoon.

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