Kalle Rovanperä has pulled clear on Rally Estonia, winning this morning’s quartet of stages to lead round eight of the FIA World Rally Championship by 20.3s.

The defending FIA world champion, who led by just 3.0s overnight, won both passes of the high-speed Mäeküla and Otepää tests to stretch his advantage to 20.3s before the mid-leg service halt at the Raadi Country Park close to Tartu, Estonia’s second largest city.

His progress was aided by a slow tyre deflation for Neuville, which cost the Belgian 10.9s on SS12.

Despite his rapid performance, Rovanperä, who opened the road on Friday, labelled his first run through Mäeküla “the worst of the weekend for me so far” as he tried to adjust to the increased grip offered by his later starting position. He still won that stage by 1.6s, however.

“I was pushing like hell the whole [of the last] stage to be honest,” said the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid driver. “It’s enjoyable in the car. The jumps are harsh but it’s a good job for the fans and I tried to push hard.”

Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid, felt he had lacked commitment in certain sections and blamed his hesitance on some of his pacenotes being “too slow.”

“I try, but I always feel like I’m hesitating a bit here and there,” he revealed. “On the jumps I could take more risks, but I don’t know if I should.”

Addressing his final stage setback, Neuville added: “There was nothing we could do to be honest. We carried on as good as we could. We did 3.5 kilometres with a puncture but we didn’t lose too much.”

Neuville’s team-mate Esapekka Lappi was caught by Elfyn Evans through the opening pair of stages this morning and his buffer over the Welshman was reduced to 0.7s as a result. He responded on the second pass, however, keeping the Welshman 1.9s behind in third overall.

Teemu Suninen made it three Hyundais inside the top five, gaining experience with every kilometre on his first top-level start since ACI Rally Monza in 2021. He lost ground to the frontrunners, however, and trails Evans by 33.1s but has 17.8s in hand over M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet, who was hit with a five-second time penalty for being in breach of hybrid strategy rules during SS7 on Friday.

Takamoto Katsuta traded times with Loubet throughout the morning and sits within touching distance of the Frenchman. Home hero Ott Tänak is now up to eighth having been hit by a five-minute time penalty for an engine change following shakedown on Thursday.

FIA WRC2 leader Andreas Mikkelsen is ninth overall in his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 while Sami Pajari completes the top 10 as the top FIA WRC2 Challenger contender.

Roope Korhonen is the driver to beat in the FIA WRC3 category, while Grégoire Munster remains in front in the FIA Junior WRC Championship order. Alexander Villanueva leads Mauro Miele in the WRC Masters’ Cup.

The first run of the 11.73-kilometre Elva stage opens Saturday afternoon’s action at 14:56 local time. It’s one of five stages scheduled prior to the overnight halt. – www.fia.com

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