Ravonpera wins in NZ to become youngest WRC champion
WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — Finland’s Kalle Rovanpera became the youngest driver to win a World Rally Championship Sunday when he stormed to a 34.6 second victory in the Rally of New Zealand a day after his 22nd birthday.
The Toyota driver came into the New Zealand event 53 points clear of Estonia’s Ott Tanak in the driver’s standings and extended that lead to an unassailable 64 points with only rounds in Spain and Japan remaining.
He won six of 17 stages to finish ahead of Sebastian Ogier of France with Tanak a further 13.9 seconds back in third place. In doing so, Ravonpera broke the record of Scotsman Colin McRae who was 27 when he won his first WRC drivers’ championship in 1995.
Ravonpera took control of the rally on the second day Saturday. The day began inauspiciously when he incurred a five second penalty for breaching hybrid strategy rules. Tanak and his Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville of Belgium incurred similar penalties.
Ravonpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen went on to seize the rally lead Saturday during testing stages through the Kaipara Hills north of Auckland on gravel roads made slick by constant rain.
He came into the last four stages of the rally Sunday with a 29 second lead over Ogier and was able to increase that lead with a win on the first stage of the day. Ravonpera then clinched the rally and the world title by winning the final super special stage narrowly from Tanak to take the extra bonus points on offer.
“What a birthday weekend,” he said. “Biggest thanks of course goes to our (team) who built this rocket. Also my sponsors, family and friends who have been there since the beginning.”
Tanak battled for much of the rally with the set up on his Hyundai, saying after Saturday’s stages “I have no feeling in the car. We can’t do anything and we have no speed. It’s nothing new.”
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