Finnish Kalle Rovanperä is on his way to a second consecutive world title after the retirement of his main competitor, Briton Elfyn Evans, on Saturday during the Central European Rally, the penultimate round of the WRC world rally championship. His only task is to avoid retirement by the finish on Sunday, especially since Evans' car will be repaired and he will be able to participate in the final special, the Power Stage, which sees the top five score additional points in the championship.
For the young 23-year-old Finn, the horizon suddenly brightened late Saturday morning when Evans, his teammate at Toyota, skidded at the start of the 11th special and smashed through the door of a wooden barn with the back of his car. Then 3rd, the Welshman saw his chances, already very slim, of beating Rovanperä to the post almost disappear at the same time since there remains, after this European round, only one event on the championship calendar, the rally from Japan in three weeks. The Finn, who was then leading the rally, immediately eased off. “I knew Elfyn was out so why would I continue to take risks?,” he said. Especially since he himself had gone straight in the previous special.
He therefore let Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) take command, which the Belgian still held on Saturday evening at the end of the 14th special with 26.2 seconds ahead of the Finn. They have four other stages left on Sunday, including the Power Stage, to battle it out but Neuville no longer has any chance in the championship and is fighting for honor. Rovanperä aims to secure his title.
The positions, barring an accident, could therefore already be fixed. The 3rd, the Estonian Ott Tänak (M-Sport-Ford) is almost 1 min 50 sec from Rovanperä and the 4th, the French Sébastien Ogier (Toyota), more than 2 min 20 sec. Ogier, eight-time world champion, is only participating in a few events this year even though he has already won three (Monte Carlo, Mexico and Kenya). A puncture on Friday cost him precious minutes and any chance of victory. But he showed on Saturday that he remained in the race by winning two scratch times on the muddy asphalt of the Czech, Austrian and German roads, countries crossed by the rally. The other Frenchman entered in WRC1, Pierre-Louis Loubet (M-Sport/Ford), was relegated to 8th place following a one-minute penalty imposed on Friday.
Provisional classification for the Central European Rally, 12th round out of 13 of the World Rally Championship (WRC), at the end of the third day on Saturday:
1. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL/Hyundai): 2:18:34.5
2. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Toyota) à 26.2
3. Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (EST/M-Sport Ford) à 1:49.1
4. Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (FRA/Toyota) at 2:20.2
5. Takamoto Tatsuta/Aaron Johnston (JPN-IRL/Toyota) à 2:47.9
8. Pierre-Louis Loubet/Benjamin Veillas (FRA/M-Sport Ford) at 9:05.8
Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (FIN/Hyundai). Sortie de route ES5.
Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (GBR/Toyota): Sortie de route ES11
Special stage winners:
Kalle Rovanperä (ES3, ES4, ES5, ES7, ES14), Thierry Neuville (ES2, ES8, ES10, ES11), Elfyn Evans (ES6, ES9), Sébastien Ogier (ES12, ES13), Ott Tänak (ES1)