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WRC Rally Poland

WRC Poland: Rovanpera snatches lead, 2.7s covers top three

The world champion standing in for the injured Ogier grabbed the lead

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

World rally champion Kalle Rovanpera produced a stunning effort to lead Rally Poland by 0.4s from Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans as the top three were covered by 2.7s on Saturday morning.

Despite his limited and rushed preparation for the event, Rovanpera showed his class to overhaul overnight leader Hyundai's Andreas Mikkelsen across Saturday morning's four gravel stages.

Rovanpera won three of the four tests while his full-time team-mate and title contender Evans pushed to trail the Finn by the most slender of margins.

Mikkelsen witnessed his 1.8s advantage evaporate but a push on the morning's final stage brought the Norwegian to within 2.7s of Rovanpera, before dropping five tenths to the Finn in the loop ending super special.

M-Sport Ford's Adrien Fourmaux held onto fourth [+15.9s] to pull clear of fellow Ford runner and Rally1 debutant Martins Sesks [+30.7s]. Championship leader Thierry Neuville climbed to sixth [+46.5s] in front of Gregoire Munster [56.2s], with Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta in eighth [+1m06.8s].        

Overnight rain dampened the stages but by the time the crews headed to stage nine the roads were largely dry.

After two stages were cancelled, and another interrupted due to spectator controlling issues, the FIA confirmed that the police presence would be redeployed in a bid to avoid a repeat.

Authorities were sent to the forestry areas that have been identified as locations where a small minority of fans were standing in dangerous areas and disrupting proceedings. 

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

The FIA reiterated that event organisers "have implemented a series of stringent safety measures in accordance with a detailed safety plan prepared and approved months in advance."

However, officials were forced to red flag the opening test of the day, stage nine [Swietajno, 18.50km] due to spectator safety issues, after the returning Ott Tanak, following his retirement yesterday, Katsuta and Neuville passed through. Fortunately, the stage was restarted after approximately a 25-minute delay.

Once the action resumed, the battle for the rally lead intensified as Rovanpera reeled off a stage win, pipping team-mate Evans by 0.9s.

Rally leader Mikkelsen rose to the challenge at the front but the Hyundai driver dropped 1.3s reducing his rally lead over Rovanpera to 0.5s, with Evans only 1.6s adrift.

Fourmaux produced impressive pace to pull 6.1s clear of debutant Martins Sesks in their fight over fourth overall. Neuville managed to close to within 2.4s of Munster in the battle over sixth while Katsuta showed signs of improved pace after making set-up changes to his GR Yaris overnight.

The rally lead did however change hands on stage 10 [Goldap, 19,90km] when Rovanpera once again showed his class to post another fastest time.

The Finn edged Evans by 0.3s as Mikkelsen's challenge faltered, conceding 5.1s to the world champion, who moved into a 1.4s lead. It meant Toyota surged into a one-two demoting Mikkelsen to third, 4.6s in arrears.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Romain Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

A third-fastest stage time for Neuville moved the Belgian ahead of M-Sport's Munster into fifth overall by 5.3s.

Stage 11 was delayed by 15 minutes but once it got underway it proved to be a favourite among the drivers thanks to its high speed and flowing corners.

It provided an intense battle at the front as Mikkelsen responded to losing the rally lead. The Norwegian won the stage by 1.1s from Evans, who also produced a committed effort.

"The pace is high, and we are trying hard. I was flat out," said Mikkelsen. "I was a bit careful in the last three or four corners, that's the only place we lost time I think. It's a good fight, I'm enjoying it."

Rovanpera was frustrated and scared after posting what was only the third fastest time as his lead reduced to a tenth of a second.

"It is not enough I need to be much quicker but I'm happy that we are at the end of the loop. But with this little preparation it is so f****** scary I don't like it all," said Rovanpera.

Rovanpera defeated Evans in the loop ending side-by-side Mikolajki super special by 0.3s to extend his lead and claim a personal reward. 

“It is really tight at the moment, such a difficult morning. I needed to win this stage because my mechanic in Finland said if I win this one and he will give me a picture of the livery of my drift car," he said.

In WRC2, Sami Pajari extended his lead in the class after rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz went off the road and lost a wheel in stage 11. Robert Virves took over second as Oliver Solberg climbed to third.

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