The championship leader survived slippery conditions to win the three asphalt stages to climb from sitting fourth overnight into a 29.2s lead over Toyota team-mate and title rival Elfyn Evans by 29.2s.
Evans needs to outscore Rovanpera at this weekend’s inaugural three country rally to take the title fight to the final round in Japan next month.
Overnight leader Thierry Neuville struggled on the wet roads which demoted the Hyundai driver to third (+30.1s).
M-Sport’s Ott Tanak ended the loop in fourth (+43.8s) ahead of Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta (+1m17.5s) Teemu Suninen (1m23.4s). The Rally1 field was completed by M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster (+1m31.1s), Pierre-Louis Loubet (+1m31.7s) and Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier (+1m44.4s), who lost time to a puncture. Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi’s crashed out of third on stage five.
Heavy rain created extremely slippery conditions for crews that favoured those at the top of the road order. Road conditions worsened after each pass as more and more mud was dragged onto the surface from cuts.
Rovanpera, who was first into stage three (Vlachovo Brezi 1 13.66km), made the most of his position, while again showcasing his class, to win the stage by 1.8s from Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi.
Evans was third-fastest, 3.4s adrift, which moved him from eighth to third in the overall standings. Rally leader Neuville struggled with visibility which contributed to him dropping 4.5s in the stage.
Photo by: Toyota Racing
Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
“I was struggling to see the road. I opened all the windows I could to get some air in, but it’s getting very, very dirty” said Neuville, who led the rally by 1.4s from Rovanpera after stage three.
“Bit of an appeal as well to the spectators because they removed some anti-cuts and suddenly the road was really muddy, so they should keep them in place because for us it was really dangerous.”
Tanak also found the going tough as the Rally Chile winner completed the stage 9.6s shy of Rovanpera’s benchmark. The Estonian was battling with the set-up of his Ford Puma and dropped to third overall. The sister Pumas of Munster and Loubet competed the top six.
Ogier encountered the first real issue of the day when his GR Yaris suffered damage to his right-front which cost him 41.9s, dropping the Frenchman to 10th overall.
“Unbelievable, unbelievable. What can I say? I can’t wait that Michelin is…