Rally Estonia: Day 1 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing launches into Estonian speed-fest

2023.7.20 (Thu)

One of the fastest events in the FIA World Rally Championship is underway, with Elfyn Evans holding a share of the lead for TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team after the first stage of Rally Estonia.

Car 33 (Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin)
Car 33 (Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin)

Rally Estonia is the first of two consecutive events on fast gravel roads in the north of Europe, and on Thursday morning the drivers had a final chance to get up to speed ahead of the rally in the pre-event shakedown. Kalle Rovanperä, winner of the past two editions of the rally, made a positive start with the fastest time after four runs over the shakedown stage, with team-mates Takamoto Katsuta and Evans also in the top five.

The event’s always-spectacular start ceremony in the heart of host city Tartu in the evening was followed by the opening super special stage, which took place adjacent to the service park at the Estonian National Museum. Evans was second-fastest over an extended 3.35-kilometre version of the Tartu vald test, 0.6 seconds behind Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford) – who starts the rally with a five-minute time penalty after an engine change following shakedown.

Evans therefore leads overall, on equal time with Esapekka Lappi (Hyundai), while Rovanperä is only 0.1s behind them in third. Katsuta is fifth, within 2.6s of the lead.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)

“It’s nice to get the rally started tonight without any dramas in this first stage. Elfyn has the rally lead but the time gaps are very small. We have been strong here in Estonia before and fast events like this normally suit our car very well. We also have an engine upgrade for this rally and hopefully this helps us in the fast sections. Shakedown showed that our cars are working well and was giving our drivers some good confidence to start the rally. We also had some rain today and if it stays damp in the forests, then Kalle and Elfyn will not be suffering so much cleaning the road and will have a good chance to fight for the victory.”

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“It’s good to be back in Estonia. It’s a rally I really like, I enjoy these roads and the surface a lot and the feeling is positive starting the weekend. The first stage here in Tartu is always quite interesting. It’s really technical and tricky on a narrow road, so there was no room for mistakes and we just had a clean run. Tomorrow will be crucial for us opening the road, on the longest stages with a lot of loose gravel in places. Hopefully we can stay close to the lead as it’s not easy to catch-up again on a fast rally like this. Maybe the weather can help us: it’s been raining a bit, but the ground is also drying quickly in the sun, so let’s see.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“I’m looking forward to getting into this rally. It’s obviously quite a change compared to what we’ve been used to over the last few rallies in terms of terrain and I hope we can adapt quickly to these fast roads. Shakedown was quite key for finding a good feeling, and we used it to work through a few setup options. This first stage is quite different to the rest of the rally; tight and twisty with a lot of big rocks lining the road. So it was all about keeping it clean and tidy and now we look ahead to tomorrow. As the roads are quite soft here there’s always a big evolution between the first and second passes, so we might find a few surprises tomorrow afternoon especially running second on the road.”

Takamoto Katsuta (Driver car 18)
“I have been looking forward to this rally as it’s one of my favourite events. In shakedown the car seemed to be working very well, so the team has done a very good job to prepare. I’m really excited to drive these roads with this car and I’m sure the next three days will be fun, but it’s also going to be a big challenge. On this first super special, anything can happen with the big rocks at the side of the road and your rally can easily be over, so I just needed to drive quite steady. Tomorrow will be a big day. I will try to push hard and do as well as I can.”

End of day one (Thursday):
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) 3m03.1s
2 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +0.0s
3 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +0.1s
4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +1.0s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +2.6s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +3.9s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +4.4s
8 Miko Marczyk/Szymon Gospodarczyk (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +5.9s
9 Georg Linnamäe/James Morgan (Hyundai i20 N Rally2) +6.0s
10 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda Fabia RS Rally2) +6.6s
(Results as of 21:30 on Thursday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)

What's next?
Friday is the longest day of the rally with 133.38 competitive kilometres to be tackled. The familiar Peipsiääre and Mustvee stages to the north and Raanitsa to the south are all run twice either side of mid-day service in Tartu, before a single pass of Neeruti rounds out the day.

Car 69 (Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen)
Car 69 (Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen)
Elfyn Evans
Elfyn Evans
Car 18 (Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston)
Car 18 (Takamoto Katsuta, Aaron Johnston)