Rovanpera’s last-minute call-up ends in WRC Rally Poland win

After a whirlwind few days, Kalle Rovanpera claimed one of the most remarkable victories in FIA World Rally Championship history at Rally Poland.

The reigning WRC champ, who’s elected to recharge his rallying batteries and take on a part-time campaign in 2024, never even planned to start this rally but was called in at the last minute by his Toyota Gazoo Racing team to replace Sebastien Ogier. Eight-time champ Ogier was sidelined after a road car accident during the event recce on Tuesday, leaving the 23-year-old Finn and co-driver Jonne Halttunen with less than 48 hours to ready themselves for the high-speed gravel of an event that hadn’t featured in the WRC since 2017.

Far from affecting Rovanpera, the frantic preparations and lack of real expectations seemed to spur him on as he charged to his 13th WRC career victory in a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1. He headed home teammate Elfyn Evans by 28.3s in a Toyota 1-2 after early rally leader Andreas Mikkelsen plummeted down the order on Sunday in his Hyundai i20 N Rally1.

Despite the late call-up and minimal prep, Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen celebrated a remarkable Rally Poland win. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool


Rovanpera began Sunday’s short final leg 9.4s in front of Mikkelsen, but the Norwegian’s bid for a second Rally Poland victory to go with his 2016 win for VW was dashed when he crawled to the end of the opening stage with a tire off the rim. He tumbled to sixth overall by the finish as M-Sport Ford man Adrien Fourmaux completed the podium 14.4s behind Evans.

“It’s been quite an amazing week,” said Rovanpera, whose original plans for the weekend consisted of jet-skiing with friends on his local lake.

“Definitely I have to say we have been working quite hard and we are really tired now. I think the best thing is we came here and it was not a bad idea to come. We helped the team a lot and took a lot of points for the manufacturers’ championship, so we didn’t waste our time.”

Mikkelsen, who’s also running only a limited WRC program in 2024, led through Friday’s opening leg before slipping behind Rovanpera during Saturday’s stages. After the flailing rubber from Sunday’s tire issue ripped his car’s rear wheel arch apart, he chose to cruise through the closing stages.

“It was sad what happened today,” he said. “We were really unlucky, but the right thing to do [after that] was to bring the car back for the team.”

Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen looked like a contender for the win in the early going, but fell to sixth after a Sunday tire issue. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Running in temperatures that rarely dipped below 80 F, the returning Rally Poland suffered from some spectator-control issues, but still provided edge-of-the-seat drama as the WRC contenders traded tenths of a second on the blisteringly fast roads around Mikolajki.

Barring a tire delamination on Saturday and a slow puncture in the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage, Evans fared well compared to his main WRC title rivals. The Welshman’s Polish points haul meant he overtook Hyundai’s Ott Tanak to reclaim second in the drivers’ championship and cut Thierry Neuville’s lead to 15 points with six rounds remaining.

An unfortunate impact with a deer forced Tanak’s retirement on Friday morning, but he restarted on both the following days and was able to salvage 11 points from a strong run on Super Sunday. His Hyundai teammate Neuville, meanwhile, won the bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage, but finished only fourth overall after starting first on the road on Friday (the unfortunate “honor” of being the points leader) and sweeping the road clear of loose stones for the cars behind…

Puma Rally1 star Fourmaux, who scored his third podium of the season, ended the rally 28.1s clear of Neuville, while Latvia’s Martins Sesks earned an impressive fifth-place finish on his debut in top-tier Rally1 machinery. Sesks, who ran as high as second early in the event, was driving a non-hybrid and less powerful version of the Puma, but will upgrade to a full-spec car for his home WRC round next month.

Bringing it home behind a Toyota 1-2, M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux (above) earned his third podium of the 2024 WRC season. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Mikkelsen limped home over two minutes in arrears of Rovanpera’s winning time in sixth, ahead of Gregoire Munster in the second of the full-spec Pumas, with Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta a disappointing eighth after an event he never came close to feeling comfortable on.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Sami Pajari surged from fourth to second in the overall championship standings after securing his second consecutive class win.

The 22-year-old Finn, fresh off a WRC2 win on Rally Italy last time out, stormed into the class lead on Friday morning and maintained a fast and error-free pace on the rapid Polish gravel to ensure his position at the top was never threatened.

He battled with local hero Kajetan Kajetanowicz in the early stages, but was left with a comfortable buffer when the Pole retired his Skoda Fabia RS with suspension damage on Saturday. Pajari took no risks through Sunday’s four-stage final leg, cruising to the finish 22.0s clear of Oliver Solberg’s Skoda to seal his back-to-back victory run.

The result sees Pajari moving to within three points of Citroen’s WRC2 championship leader Yohan Rossel. A WRC2 driver can nominate only seven rounds to score points on, and the Frenchman elected to skip Poland.

Sami Pajari secured back-to-back WRC2 wins with a no-risks final day on Rally Poland. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

The WRC’s run of super-fast, northern European gravel events continues next month at Rally Latvia. A first-time addition to the championship, the Liepaja-based rally takes place July 18-21.

WRC Rally Poland, final positions after Leg Three, SS19

1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2h33m07.6s

2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +28.3s

3 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1) +42.7s

4 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m10.8s

5 Martins Sesks/Renars Francis (Ford Puma Rally1, non-hybrid) +1m47.0s

6 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m16.6s

7 Gregoire Munster/Louis Louka (Ford Puma Rally1) +2m18.0s

8 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +2m26.7s

9 Sami Pajari/Enni Malkonen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally2 – WRC2 leader) +7m50.7s

10 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +8m12.7s

WRC Drivers’ Championship after 7 rounds

1 Neuville 136 points

2 Evans 121

3 Tanak 115

4 Sebastien Ogier 92

5 Fourmaux 91

WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 7 rounds

1 Hyundai Motorsport 311 points

2 Toyota Gazoo Racing 301

3 M-Sport Ford 156

Check out, the official home of the FIA World Rally Championship. And for the ultimate WRC experience, sign up for a Rally.TV subscription to watch all stages of every rally live and on demand, whenever and wherever.

Story originally appeared on Racer