Suspense builds as Kalle Rovanpera nears WRC crown after closest rival Elfyn Evans crashes out


MOTORSPORTS Suspense builds as Kalle Rovanpera nears WRC crown after closest rival Elfyn Evans crashes out

Festus Chuma 11:04 - 29.10.2023

Kalle Rovanperä edges closer to his second consecutive WRC title as Elfyn Evans crashes, setting the stage for a thrilling conclusion.

Kalle Rovanperä is just four stages away from securing back-to-back FIA World Rally Championship titles after his sole remaining title rival, Elfyn Evans, endured a disastrous crash during the Central European Rally on Saturday.

The 23-year-old Finnish sensation had been dominating the rally, already putting up a strong defense of his 2022 WRC drivers' crown.

On Thursday, Rovanperä showcased his prowess by conquering treacherous tests in the Czech Republic, building a commanding lead in the rally.

However, a spin during Saturday's second stage allowed Thierry Neuville to cut Rovanperä's advantage by more than half.

But the game-changing moment occurred later in the morning when Rovanperä's teammate, Elfyn Evans, who had been holding third place overall, crashed out of contention.

Evans needed to outscore Rovanperä by at least one point in this penultimate round to keep the title fight alive. However, his hopes were dashed when he lost control on a slippery right-hand bend and slid into a barn. Determined to salvage bonus points, Evans would restart on Sunday.

In a strategic move aimed at securing his championship prospects, Rovanperä dialed back his speed, sacrificing his chances of an outright rally win. This allowed Neuville to build a 26.2-second overnight lead in his Hyundai i20 N.

Reflecting on the challenging conditions, Rovanperä remarked, "It's good to be at the finish of the day. It's tough out there. I think these are the most tough Tarmac rally conditions I have ever seen."

Neuville, on the verge of becoming the first-ever Central European Rally winner, stated, "All afternoon we tried to manage the gap, and I am happy to finish the day in the lead of the rally. We are following our target."

Ott Tänak ensured that all three top-line manufacturers ended the day on the podium by bringing his Ford Puma to a lonely third place overall. Although a non-functioning handbrake caused some frustrations in SS14, Tänak trailed Rovanperä by over one minute, with Sébastien Ogier 31.1 seconds behind.

The battle for fifth place raged between Toyota's Takamoto Katsuta and Hyundai's Teemu Suninen. Katsuta initially struggled to find confidence on the greasy asphalt roads in the morning but upped his pace in the afternoon, securing the position with a 10.9-second gap.

Puma hotshot Grégoire Munster secured seventh place overall, ahead of Pierre-Louis Loubet. Adrien Fourmaux and Emil Lindholm, leading the WRC2 category in a Hyundai i20 N Rally2, completed the leaderboard.

Sunday's finale promises excitement with two stages, each traversed twice, spanning two countries. First up is Böhmerwald in Austria, followed by Passauer Land in Germany, where the second pass forms the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage. 

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