Karl Kruuda has claimed his second victory in the World Rally Championship's fastest support category, WRC 2, with a flying first-place finish in Finland today.
The 21-year-old, who also topped the division in Sweden in February, took the lead on stage 16 and kept a cool head to reach the podium in Jyväskylä this afternoon with a winning margin of 2m08.7s in his PrintSport-prepared Ford Fiesta S2000.
Co-driven by fellow Estonian Martin Järveoja, Kruuda's capture of 25 points means he climbs to third in the WRC 2 standings and is now seven points behind category leader Lorenzo Bertelli, with two scoring opportunities remaining.
While several of his key rivals had problems, Kruuda kept out of trouble to score a popular victory. "It's a fantastic feeling," he said. "Although winning in Sweden on the final stage felt better, this was something else and the support from the Estonian fans has been fantastic. I'm very happy."
Kruuda began Sunday's closing trio of stages leading by more than two and a half minutes and said remaining relaxed would be key. "Even though we had a big lead after Jari Ketomaa had his problems, it was a really hard rally because every corner seemed tighter and every rock seemed bigger," he explained. "Lots of thoughts kept going through my head that there might be a problem with the car or something could go wrong. We kept relaxed and the final day was more like a Sunday afternoon drive rather than a big fight. But we got to enjoy some very nice stages in front of lots of fans and with a good car."
Kruuda's Rally Finland was not without incident, however. Switching back to his Fiesta S2000 from the turbocharged Peugeot 208T16 he has used on his last three international rallies, Kruuda spent the early running reacclimatising to the normally aspirated Fiesta, a task that was made harder when it rained on Thursday. A heavy landing on Saturday afternoon broke the Fiesta's gearbox oil cooler, while an oil pressure sensor issue and damaged air intake caused further concern; although Kruuda's commanding lead was never threatened.
"The rally was never boring, that's for sure and there were some times when my crash in Poland was getting in my way," said Kruuda. "But not only have we got great points for WRC 2, we've also gained some useful experience of the Finnish roads in the Fiesta, which we're using in the Finnish championship. We still have two rounds left in that and we're six points behind Jarkko Nikara so there is a chance of the title."