Despite an oversteering Skoda Fabia R5, the 18-year-old Finn built a lead of almost 1min 15sec through the morning’s smooth forest speed tests in pursuit of his fourth consecutive class win.
Changes to the suspension settings transformed the car’s handling this afternoon and he extended his advantage to 2min 15.1sec over Eric Camilli’s Ford Fiesta, having won all 10 speed tests.
Camilli is giving the new Fiesta R5 its WRC debut and the Frenchman’s pace improved as he became more familiar to his new mount.
Eerik Pietarinen, winner of the WRC 2 category here 12 months ago, was an early casualty this time round. He crashed in the opening Oittila test and will not restart tomorrow.
Pierre-Louis Loubet was almost as dominant as Rovanperä in WRC 2. The Frenchman won the last two rounds and made significant strides towards a hat-trick. He won six special stages in a row in his Fabia en route to an overnight 49.6sec advantage.
Jari Huttunen was his closest challenger in a Hyundai i20 but a puncture cost almost a minute and relegated the Finn to fourth.
Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta (Fiesta) and Nikolay Gryazin (Fabia) were rarely split by more than a handful of seconds. Katsuta inherited second after Huttunen’s problem but a strong afternoon for the Russian enabled him to clamber ahead, ending with a 0.1sec advantage.
Johan Kristoffersson (Volkswagen Polo) was fifth behind Huttunen and more than four minutes clear of Henning Solberg, who fell back after stopping to change a broken wheel.
Emil Lindholm (Polo) led early on before crashing out in the second stage while other retirements included Tomi Tukiainen and Gregoire Munster.