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WRC Poland: Rovanpera on course for memorable win, tyre issue costs Evans

Kalle Rovanpera produced a stunning drive in challenging circumstances to lead Rally Poland heading into the final day of the seventh round of the World Rally Championship.

The last-minute replacement for Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier, who suffered a pre-event reconnaissance crash, won six of the day’s seven stages to open up a 9.4s lead over Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen.

Rovanpera started Saturday 1.8s behind Mikkelsen and despite his limited event preparation he was able to overhaul the Hyundai driver in stage 10, before pulling clear of the Norwegian across the afternoon. The performance earned Rovanpera 18 provisional championship points for topping the standings, while Mikkelsen secured 15 points.

A right-rear tyre delamination cost title contender Elfyn Evans his grip on second place as the Toyota driver had to settle for third [+16.1s] for 13 points. M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux drove smartly to hold onto fourth [+37.0s] to pick up 10 points.

Rally1 debutant Martins Sesks [+58.2s] hung onto fifth by 0.1s from championship leader and Hyundai driver Thierry Neuville [+58.3s], who took a provisional eight points. M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster [+1m24.5s] and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta [+1m41.9s] rounded out the top eight.

Only eight Rally1 cars started the afternoon loop held in extreme heat after Hyundai elected to retire Tanak’s i20 N to focus on challenging for Super Sunday points tomorrow. The Estonian, who reported an engine issue across the morning, had nothing to fight in terms of Saturday points after retiring from the action on Friday after a collision with a deer.

Toyota, Hyundai and M-Sport opted for differing tyre strategies to tackle the trio of stages, with rubber becoming a talking point on the afternoon’s first test, stage 13 [Swietajno, 18.50km].

Andreas Mikkelsen, Hyundai World Rally Team

Photo by: Tomasz Kaliński

Rally leader Rovanpera was unsure if Toyota’s decision to take one hard and four softs was the correct call, but on first reflection it seemed promising as the Finn won the stage to extend his rally lead.

That lead was now over Mikkelsen, after Evans suffered a strange issue with the soft tyre on his right rear. The tyre lost all of its tread in a partial delamination, which contributed to a loss of 8.9s, dropping the Welshman from 0.4s behind Rovanpera to 9.3s adrift in third overall.

“There was no warning the tyre just exploded,” said Evans.

After being cautious in Friday afternoon’s second pass through the stages, Mikkelsen took the opposite approach today, ending the stage only 2.8s behind Rovanpera.

“We are trying hard, it’s very rough. Yesterday on the second loop I was trying to adjust my driving, today I don’t care about the tyres or the rims, it looks like it’s working,” said Mikkelsen.

The other driver on the move was championship leader Neuville as his bid to leapfrog Sesks into fifth continued. The Belgian posted the third-fastest stage time, taking 7.1s out of Latvian, to close the gap to 8.7s. Neuville was helped when Sesks lost time when he briefly ran wide at a left-hander.

Neuville attacked on stage 14 [Goldap 19.90km] as he continued to slash the gap to Sesks, but was downbeat at the stage end, labelling his run a “disaster” due to the messy road conditions. However, his effort was 6.2s faster than Sesks, cutting the deficit to 2.4s in their battle over fifth.

Martins Sesks, Renars Francis, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Martins Sesks, Renars Francis, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

At the front, Rovanpera was also convinced he would lose time to his rivals as his soft tyres began to give up, but he won the stage by 2.2s from Neuville and extended his rally lead to 5.2s over Mikkelsen.

Despite this, Rovanpera was adamant that the tyre decision was “bad” and “hard tyres would have been faster”.

Rovanpera quashed any fears over his tyres by winning the day’s final stage [Czarne, 22.40km] by 2.8s from Evans, while Mikkelsen could only post a time for third, 4.2s adrift.

The stage did deliver drama as Sesks survived a wild moment over a jump to hold off Neuville by 0.1s in the overall standings, as the Hyundai driver rued a small mistake that he felt cost him a second.

In WRC2, Sami Pajari maintained the lead from a recovering Oliver Solberg, who sat seventh in the category on Friday.

Four stages await the crews on Sunday to conclude the event.

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