Kalle Rovanpera is a two-time FIA World Rally Champion after clinching his second consecutive title on Sunday with a runner-up finish on the inaugural Central European Rally.
The 23-year-old Finn came home 57.6s behind rally winner Thierry Neuville after a measured performance on Sunday’s short final leg of an all-asphalt event that featured stages in Germany, Austria and Czech Republic. And with one WRC round still to go, he can’t now be caught by his nearest rival, Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans.
Entering this rally with a 31-point lead over Evans, reigning champ Rovanpera simply needed to maintain that advantage to claim back-to-back crowns. When Evans suffered a dramatic crash in his GR Yaris Rally1 on Saturday morning, the path to victory was all but assured.
Following a steady start to the season, Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen hit their stride in May by winning Rally Portugal. From that moment on, the pair have only finished outside of the podium twice, adding victories in Estonia and Greece.
“I am feeling really good,” said Rovanpera. “I think this year was, for me personally, more important than last year. The competition was tighter, and we did a really good job. The biggest thank you of course goes to Jonne — he is also the world’s best co-driver. I am going to enjoy this one more than the first one.”
Neuville’s outright rally victory may have been overshadowed by the champions’ celebrations, but the Belgian’s drive was a masterclass in precision through three days of often treacherous road conditions.
Driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Neuville took control on Saturday morning, started Sunday’s final leg with a 26.2s lead, and extended that to almost a minute at the finish to claim his 19th outright WRC career victory on the slippery asphalt roads across Germany, Austria and Czech Republic.
“Overall, we did a good job,” Neuville said. “We had good consistency which ultimately paid off. It was a team effort this weekend and we did it, so we can be proud of that.”
M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tanak overcame a hydraulic failure on the penultimate day to complete the podium, but almost two minutes back from the front-running pace in his Puma Rally1.
Eight-time WRC champ Sebastien Ogier, making one of his occasional 2023 WRC appearances, fought back from wheel damage on Friday to claim fourth ahead of his Toyota teammate Takamoto Katsuta.
Teemu Suninen’s Hyundai finished sixth overall, ahead of M-Sport Ford’s Gregoire Munster, with Pierre-Louis Loubet Puma the only other Rally1 car in the top 10.
Evans did restart Sunday’s final leg after Saturday’s off, and at least had the consolation of setting fastest time in the bonus points-paying, rally-ending Wolf Power Stage.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Andreas Mikkelsen and co-driver Torsten Eriksen are the 2023 champions thanks to their last-gasp Wolf Power Stage victory.
In perhaps one of the most remarkable turnarounds the Norwegian has experienced in his career, Mickelsen clinched the title despite finishing in 13th place in the class, more than 13 minutes behind WRC2 winner Nicolas Ciamin.
Mikkelsen’s chances of wrapping up the title on pace alone vanished on Friday morning when his Skoda Fabia RS left the road, a mishap which cost around 10 minutes. But, with his closest championship rival — Citroen’s Yohan Rossel — out after hitting a tree, fellow Skoda pilot Gus Greensmith was the only remaining driver who stood a realistic chance of preventing Mikkelsen’s celebrations at this penultimate round of the season.
Greensmith’s own struggles, including a puncture on day one, limited him to fourth place in the class results. Crucially, his failure to score any Wolf Power Stage bonus points, coupled with Mikkelsen’s benchmark time through the finale, meant that both he and Mikkelsen ended the rally with 111 points apiece.
Mikkelsen, unlike his rival, still has one scoring round remaining. His three victories so far this season, compared with Greensmith’s two, earned him the title on countback. Regardless of his result at Rally Japan next month, the 34-year-old can no longer be beaten.
The 2023 WRC season comes to a close in Asia next month at Rally Japan. Another all-asphalt event, the rally runs on the tight, twisty roads around Aichi, Nov. 16-19.
WRC Central European Rally, final positions after Leg Three, SS18
1 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) 2h52m39.9s
2 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +57.6s
3 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Puma Rally1) +1m52.8s
4 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m08.6s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnson (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m48.3s
6 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +3m06.3s
7 Gregoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1) +4m22.3s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Fiesta MkII – RC2, non-points) +11m35.8s
9 Nicolas Ciamin/Yannick Roche (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 winner) +11m53.1s
10 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Benjamin Veillas (Ford Puma Rally1) +12m04.3s
WRC Drivers’ Championship after 12 rounds
1 Rovanpera 235 points (2023 champion)
2 Evans 191
3 Neuville 184
4 Tanak 162
5 Sebastien Ogier 114
WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 12 rounds
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing 504 points (2023 champion)
3 M-Sport Ford 271
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