ROVANPERA DESTROYS RIVALS
Finnish wonderkid dominates in wales .by Jack benyon
The supposed British battle for R5 honours never happened on Wales Rally GB, but fans should have been reconciled by the spectacular Kalle Rovanpera and his phenomenal WRC2 and RC2 class wins.
A lot has changed in a year. Rovanpera – co-driven by Jonne Halttunen – was launched onto the world stage with his WRC2 debut on this event in 2017, but a small off led to radiator damage. When he was on the road he wasn’t threatening the top five in the order. Had the hype about ‘rallying’s Max Verstappen’ come too soon?
A switch to a different pacenote system – descriptive instead of the usual number to depict the severity of the corner – and a works Skoda Fabia instead of a Ford Fiesta has led to an upturn in form, and to be honest, he deserved more time to bed-in and impress given he is just 18 years of age. Put into perspective, he could drive in the Junior World Rally Championship for the next nine seasons…
His main competition would be Pontus Tidemand, his works Skoda team-mate who is fighting for a second WRC2 title. Jan Kopecky’s strong lead meant the Swede – who won this event and the WRC2 title last year – could really have done with a win to keep his title alive.
However, the battle for victory was over on the first full morning on Friday and, while that may not be as exciting as the overall event turned out to be, it was just as fun to see this spectacular youngster Rovanpera defeat apparent WRC shoe-in Tidemand over just 35 miles.
That was the distance of the morning loop, and 37.9 seconds was the gap built. Even the wonderkid wasn’t expecting it. He was a second a mile quicker. In the same car.
“I can feel that we have good speed, but I’m still quite surprised the gap is this good,” he said, as he held a 58.6-second lead overnight, beaten on one of the first nine stages only.
The performance was all the more impressive given the fact he was carrying two spare tyres while most of his rivals took one. Indeed, it was that decision that cost potential win threat Eric Camilli as the Fiesta frontrunner had two punctures.
Instead it was Brit Gus Greensmith taking up the M-sport charge. Since its introduction in 2016, the Fabia has won every WRGB, and Rovanpera’s pace showed it was capable of game-changing pace once again compared to the Fiesta.
But Greensmith has matured and gone quicker this season, and it was clear he didn’t want Tidemand disappearing off into the distance.
A fastest time to open Saturday morning had Bury driver Greensmith within five seconds of Tidemand, but Dyfi, SS12, decided it didn’t like British drivers as Greensmith and Aberdovey’s Tom Cave also hit trouble.
“I had a fairly high-speed spin,” said Greensmith. “We lost 20-something seconds. I still wanted to keep the pressure on Pontus because I can’t just let him have it comfortably.”
Unfortunately he had no choice, as Tidemand raised his game on Saturday afternoon. There was a scare on Sunday’s tricky and slippery Gwydir test, as Tidemand hit a bank, but he lost minimal time. He was, though, in a different postcode to Rovanpera. He was greeted at the end by his father Harri for his second WRC2 win, this one coming with 15 of 23 stage wins in one of the best WRC2 fields in recent memory, as opposed to Rovanpera being the sole entrant for his first win, in Australia, last year.
Cave – not registered for WRC2 – was out in an R5 for the first time since this event last year, and for the first time since Finland 2017 in a Hyundai i20 R5. It yielded four class-fastest stage times. But like Greensmith he was caught out in Dyfi on Saturday.
“I got caught out carrying too much speed in a very fast left-hander, when it tightened, the car ran wide and we spun backwards down a bank into some trees,” explained Cave. “We were trying to get some spectators but there weren’t many around.”
His fastest times were brilliant given how long he was out of a car for, and how many events he had done this year, even if he was on the favourable DMACK tyres, alongside British championship frontrunner David Bogie’s Fabia.
The latter was also very impressive, lying fifth in RC2 overall before the Dumfries driver broke the radiator on his Fabia on Sunday morning.
Rally Turkey WRC2 podium finisher Chris Ingram got his first taste of an R5 at home, but it never came together for the Manchester driver as an off on Friday submerged his Fabia in water up to the seats. He struggled to make an impression on the top five in times, but if Rovanpera is anything to go off Ingram shouldn’t be too worried for next season.
Jari Huttunen – the works Hyundai driver – steered his i20 to fourth in his second year on the event in the car in a row, while Stephane Lefebvre continued the development of the new Citroen C3 R5, even ripping its fuel tank out at one point, by taking fifth as four marques populated the top five.
Despite myriad problems ( see BRC report page 11), new British champion Matt Edwards made the top 10 in class with ninth.
Rovanpera (r) and Halttunen (l) celebrate strong victory
Brilliant stage times for Cave/morgan
Greensmith led the British R5 charge