Rovanpera wins Rally Acropolis to tighten grip on WRC title defense

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera (above) took his third victory of the season at Acropolis Rally Greece on Sunday to tighten his grip on this year’s FIA World Rally Championship.

The 22-year-old reigning champ had looked set for only a third-place finish on the 2023 WRC season’s 10th round, but found himself topping the leaderboard by more than two minutes after Saturday’s penultimate leg when former leaders Thierry Neuville and Sebastien Ogier retired.

Both were sidelined by central Greece’s unforgiving rock-strewn mountain roads, with Neuville’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1 sustaining front suspension damage before Ogier hit a rock in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 in Saturday’s final stage. Despite his best efforts to make temporary repairs at the end of the stage, the Frenchman retired with rear suspension failure on the road section before the overnight halt. 


Rovanpera could afford to relax through Sunday’s three-stage final leg in his GR Yaris, but still sealed a near-perfect weekend with one final push that added the maximum five bonus points for winning the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage to the 25 he earned for the overall victory. He headed Toyota Gazoo Racing teammate Elfyn Evans, his closest challenger in the championship standings, by 1m31.7s at the finish — the biggest winning margin in his 11 WRC rally wins — and extended his points over the Welshman to 33 with just three rounds remaining and a maximum 90 points available. 

“Of course, it’s a big relief,” said Rovanpera, whose victory also helped extend Toyota’s manufacturers’ championship lead to 91 points over Hyundai. “After a difficult rally in Finland, we needed to come back now. A strong performance, starting first car on the road and finishing first is quite nice. We had a clever drive and still a good push here at the end [in the Wolf Power Stage].”

Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen celebrate their third win of the 2023 WRC season.

Evans lost more than one minute on Saturday as a result of his Toyota overheating, but fought back to finish second overall after battling with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo until the very last stage.

Sordo had held the upper hand overnight, but a sluggish run through Sunday’s opening Tarzan stage cost him the position. The Spaniard, contesting his first event since Safari Rally Kenya in June, lost out by just 4.2s, but secured his second podium of the season. 

Ott Tanak incurred 3m40s in time penalties when a water pump failure meant he was late to leave Friday’s tire fitting zone and was playing catch up after that. But the M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 driver enjoyed a relatively clean run from then on and climbed to an impressive fourth overall, albeit almost three minutes off the final podium spot.

Ott Tanak’s hopes of a win were dashed early, but the M-Sport Ford driver fought back to finish fourth overall. @World/Red Bull Content Pool

Esapekka Lappi was fifth after a glitch-filled event in his Hyundai, Takamoto Katsuta’s GR Yaris sixth, and a restarting Ogier, loaded up with two minutes of time penalties, 10th overall.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Andreas Mikkelsen overtook Gus Greensmith in Sunday’s penultimate stage to secure an important class victory.

Mikkelsen, who suffered tire damage on three separate occasions during Friday’s opening leg, delivered a no-holds-barred comeback drive on Saturday to climb from 12th to first in class in his Skoda Fabia RS. 

However, an updated notional time issued by the rally organizers on Sunday morning dropped the Norwegian back behind Greensmith by 12.0s with just three stages remaining. 

But drama would be just around the corner for Greensmith, with the British driver reporting a transmission issue on his similar Toksport-run Skoda. Although he was able to make it back to the final service, Mikkelsen had overtaken him in the penultimate stage and won the class by 10.3s, as well as finishing seventh overall.

“This is a special one,” said Mikkelsen after extending his WRC2 championship lead to 16 points over Yohan Rossel, who completed the podium 1m15.7s behind Greensmith in a Citroen C3. “After Friday, everything looked so dark and we decided we had nothing to lose. We drove the fastest we could on every corner the whole rally.”

Andreas Mikkelsen looked down and out after tire issues on the opening leg, but charged back for the WRC2 win. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

The championship heads to South America later this month for round 11. Rally Chile returns to the WRC calendar from Sept. 28-Oct. 1. Based out of the city of Concepcion, the gravel road event could be a last roll of the dice for Elfyn Evans in his chase of points leader Kalle Rovanpera.

WRC Acropolis Rally Greece, final positions after Day Three, SS15

1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3h00m16.7s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m31.7s
3 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m35.9s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Puma Rally1) +4m28.4s
5 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +6m22.3s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnson (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +7m20.9s
7 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 winner) +9m41.0s
8 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +9m51.3s
9 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +11m07.0s
10 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +11m43.4s

WRC Drivers’ Championship after 10 rounds
Rovanpera 200 points
2 Evans 167
3 Neuville 134
4 Tanak 119
5 Ogier 99

WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 10 rounds
Toyota Gazoo Racing 430 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 339
3 M-Sport Ford 220  

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Story originally appeared on Racer