Kalle Rovanperä landed his second FIA World Rally Championship event win on Sunday afternoon after dominating EKO Acropolis Rally Greece.
The 20-year-old Finn led for virtually the entire four-day fixture on rocky mountain roads in central Greece to win by 42.1s in a Toyota Yaris. The victory came two months after he became the youngest WRC winner in history in Estonia.
Ott Tänak finished second in a Hyundai i20 after a late scare, with championship leader Sébastien Ogier driving a measured rally to finish third in another Yaris, a further 29.2s back. The Frenchman extended his points lead to 44 with three rounds remaining.
Rain in the run-up made conditions unpredictable on the rally’s WRC return after an eight-year absence. Rugged gravel tracks were interspersed with muddy sections that failed to dry, ensuring unpredictable driving and difficult tyre choices.
Rovanperä took the lead in the third speed test on Friday morning and was never headed. He, Tänak and Ogier were covered by 3.9s on Friday night but a blistering turn of speed on Saturday delivered four straight stage wins and carried him almost 40s clear.
He managed his advantage through the remaining stages and sealed a perfect weekend with maximum bonus points for winning the Wolf Power Stage. Rovanperä and Ogier increased Toyota Gazoo Racing’s lead at the top of the manufacturers’ standings to 57 points over Hyundai Motorsport.
“I was not maybe the most comfortable coming here but it just shows that now everything is going well for us and we can push hard,” smiled Rovanperä. “We had a perfect car and also a rough rally and it was running without issues all the time.”
Tänak never felt comfortable but was glad to accept second after final day electrical issues. His car then refused to fire up ahead of the closing stage. It eventually started, with smoke clearly visible, and he completed the test with no further dramas.
With closest title rivals Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans plunging down the order after first day problems, Ogier was content with a risk-free approach that further strengthened his bid to secure an eighth WRC title.
Dani Sordo was almost two minutes further back in fourth in another i20, the Spaniard frustrated at not being on podium pace. He had nearly three minutes in hand over Gus Greensmith, who moved ahead of Ford Fiesta team-mate Adrien Fourmaux.
Fourmaux incurred a three-minute penalty when his car would not start before Sunday’s opening stage. A spark plug change solved the issue and although he moved ahead of Evans in the penultimate stage, a final test spin dropped him behind again to seventh.
Evans salvaged sixth after opening day transmission troubles in his Yaris, with Neuville recovering to eighth after losing time with damaged power steering.
The championship journeys to Finland next month for another classic WRC fixture at the fastest round in the calendar. Secto Automotive Rally Finland is based in Jyväskylä on 1-3 October.
1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota Yaris 3hr 28min 24.6s
2. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Hyundai i20 +42.1s
3. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Toyota Yaris +1min 11.3s
4. D Sordo / C Carrera ESP Hyundai i20 +3min 01.0s
5. G Greensmith / C Patterson GBR Ford Fiesta +5min 45.0s
6. E Evans / S Martin GBR Toyota Yaris +6min 42.7s