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WRC Poland: Rovanpera seals stunning win after last-minute call up

Kalle Rovanpera sealed one of the finest victories of his World Rally Championship career at Rally Poland after overcoming limited preparation as a last-minute stand-in for Toyota team-mate Sebastien Ogier.

Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen won eight of the 19 gravel stages on the way to completing a remarkable victory by +28.3 from Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin. M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux and Alex Coria secured their third WRC podium of the season in third [+42.3s].

Toyota’s part-time driver and reigning world champion was servicing his jet ski when he received the call-up to fly to Poland following the withdrawal of Ogier, who was ruled out of the event following a road traffic accident conducting the recce on Tuesday.

As a result, the Finn headed Poland having not completed any preparation for the rally and was given special dispensation to undergo a rushed recce of the stages that was completed hours before the opening stage.

While frustrated and sometimes scared to attack on the stages through first passes due to a lack of prep, Rovanpera starred in the second run through stages. He ended a heavily interrupted Friday 1.8s adrift of the rally lead held by Hyundai’s fast-starting Andreas Mikkelsen, who picked up his first stage win since Wales Rally GB 2019.

Only 7.7s covered the top five with Evans, two seconds behind Mikkelsen but ahead of Fourmaux and impressive Rally1 debutant Martins Sesks, who ran as high as second in a non-hybrid M-Sport Ford Puma. Championship leader Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, disadvantaged by opening the road, was seventh behind Gregoire Munster.

Rally favourite Ott Tanak was forced to retire his Hyundai on stage two after an unavoidable collision with a deer but rejoined on Saturday.

Poland’s return to the WRC for the first time since 2017 was blighted by spectator-controlling issues which forced organisers to cancel stage three and stage seven, while stage six was briefly red-flagged.

The action was taken due to a minority of the huge number of fans that flocked to the stages standing in dangerous locations.

Police were redeployed to the forestry areas where the issues were occurring on Saturday which appeared to solve the issue as the day ran with only one brief stoppage.

Rovanpera claimed the rally lead on stage 10 before going on to win six of the seven stages to open up a 9.4s lead over Mikkelsen heading into the final day. Evans was third, 16.1s adrift, having run as high as second, 0.4s behind Rovanpera, before suffering a right rear tyre delamination in stage 13.

Rovanpera drove smartly across Sunday’s final four stages that he had feared the most to secure an impressive second win of the year following March’s triumph in Kenya.

Mikkelsen’s impressive performance on his first gravel start in a Rally1 car unravelled when he hit a bank in stage 16 that knocked his right rear tyre off the rim, costing the Norwegian 54.7s, who would eventually finish the rally in sixth position behind Sesks.

This promoted Evans back to second which he held until the finish despite suffering a puncture in the Power Stage, to secure 17 points to cut the gap to championship leader Neuville to 15 points. 

Fourmaux enjoyed a solid run throughout the rally to claim his third career WRC podium to add to third-place finishes in Sweden and Kenya.

Neuville finished fourth overall [+1m10.8s] but could only score 14 points after finishing fifth on Saturday, fifth in the Sunday classification and first on the Power Stage.

Hyundai opted to retire Tanak on Saturday afternoon given he was out of the running for championship points to focus on the Super Sunday points. The move proved to be inspired as the Estonian secured 11 points for topping the Sunday classification and coming second in the Power Stage. 

As a result, Tanak’s haul from running only eight stages has left the 2019 champion 21 points behind leader Neuville.

M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster, who showed flashes of speed, finished 8.7s ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta in seventh. The top nine was completed by WRC2 winner Sami Pajari who took the class win from Oliver Solberg.

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