Central European Rally: Day 3 TOYOTA GAZOO Racing’s Rovanperä closes on ultimate prize

2023.10.28 (Sat)

TOYOTA GAZOO Racing World Rally Team driver Kalle Rovanperä is second overall going into the final day of the Central European Rally as he moves a step closer towards his ultimate goal of a second FIA World Rally Championship drivers’ title.

Car 69 (Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen)
Car 69 (Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen)

After a superb performance on Friday on wet roads in the Czech Republic, Rovanperä took a lead of 36.4 seconds into Saturday, knowing that a rally victory this weekend would guarantee him the crown no matter what his rival and team-mate Elfyn Evans could score.

A repeated loop of three stages took the crews into Austria for the first time and back into Germany, and although the roads were not generally as wet as those driven on Friday, they would nonetheless prove to be very slippery and demanding. Rovanperä was among those to get caught out with a spin under braking in SS10 that reduced his lead to 10.9s.

Evans meanwhile had started the day third overall and taken a stage win in SS9. Unfortunately, his championship hopes would be dealt a blow in SS11 when he slid off the road and was forced to stop with damage to his car. He and co-driver Scott Martin were fine and with their car repaired, they will restart tomorrow with a chance to still score points in the rally-ending Power Stage and therefore the possibility to stay in title contention.

Aware of his team-mate’s misfortune, Rovanperä began to take a more cautious approach to prioritise the solid finish he now requires, and conceded the lead to Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) in SS11. He did win the day’s final stage, showing he has not backed off entirely, and ended the day 26.2s away from Neuville and more than a minute ahead of third-placed Ott Tänak (M-Sport Ford).

Sébastien Ogier is up to fourth place and 31.1s behind Tänak after winning the first two stages of the afternoon loop, finding an improved feeling after a tough start to the event.

Fifth-placed Takamoto Katsuta also showed improved performance in the afternoon, when he was always among the top-four stage times driving a fourth GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID supported by the TGR WRC Challenge Program.

Jari-Matti Latvala (Team Principal)

“When we have two drivers fighting for the championship, we have to expect something like what we saw happen today. In Elfyn’s situation, he had to try to go for it, and as we have seen on this rally, in these difficult conditions, it’s very easy to make a mistake. We would have liked to see their fight continue like it was through to the end of the rally, but of course it is not completely over yet. The team could fix Elfyn’s car so he can still do whatever he can on the Power Stage to keep the battle alive. At the same time, we know Kalle is in a good position now and that he has the ability to manage the situation. Running further down the order than yesterday, there was more mud on the road, and we saw him start to take it a bit easier. Meanwhile, we saw some good speed and times from both Seb and Taka this afternoon and it would be great to see that continue tomorrow.”

Kalle Rovanperä (Driver car 69)
“It was a big challenge today. I had a moment myself in the second stage: it surprised me a bit just how slippery it was under braking, and luckily there was some space to be able to save it and come back on the road. It was a real pity then when Elfyn went off; I found out just before we started the stage and then the plan changed because now it was just about finishing the rally with some decent points. In these extremely difficult conditions, we just tried to cut out the risk and be safe, so we were a bit slower on some stages. It was not so enjoyable like this, but I did have a better feeling in the last stage which hopefully we can take into tomorrow. But we just have to try and focus on bringing it home.”

Elfyn Evans (Driver car 33)
“The conditions were quite difficult out there again this morning but things seemed to be working quite well for us behind the wheel. Unfortunately, in the final stage of the loop I was just caught out by a particularly slippery right-hander. The car seemed to slow down initially quite well on the brakes, but when I turned in, the grip was much lower than I had expected and I just locked the inside front wheel. Once that pushed us wide, the road was so narrow that there was nowhere to go really. We picked up a bit too much damage to be able to continue, but the team has managed to repair the car so we can be back out there tomorrow. I’m just disappointed for the team and for ourselves.”

Sébastien Ogier (Driver car 17)
“Today the roads were different to yesterday but the conditions were pretty similar for us, still running in the middle of the pack. This morning it was still tricky with mud on the road, so I tried to keep it on the safe side and we had an OK morning loop. Then in the afternoon we had better conditions, it was a bit drier, and we could finally enjoy some better grip and pace and have more fun in the car. So there are some positives to take from today. There is too much of a gap around us now to really target anything for tomorrow and the conditions might still be tricky in the morning, but we’ll try to have a decent pace until the end.”

End of day three (Saturday):
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) 2h18m34.5s
2 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +26.2s
3 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +1m49.1s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +2m20.2s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +2m47.9s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N Rally1 HYBRID) +2m58.8s
7 Grégoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +3m52.2s
8 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Benjamin Veillas (Ford Puma Rally1 HYBRID) +9m05.8s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Fiesta Rally2) +9m12.3s
10 Emil Lindholm/Reeta Hämäläinen (Hyundai i20 Rally2) +9m18.8s
37 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR YARIS Rally1 HYBRID) +40m07.8s
(Results as of 20:00 on Saturday, for the latest results please visit www.wrc.com)

What's next?
The final day once again spans Austria and Germany. Böhmerwald takes in Austrian roads and is followed by Passauer Land on German soil, with both stages to then be repeated – the latter as the rally-ending Power Stage.

Kalle Rovanperä
Kalle Rovanperä
Car 33 (Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin)
Car 33 (Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin)
Car 17 (Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais)
Car 17 (Sébastien Ogier, Vincent Landais)