Championship leader Rovanpera crashes out in Croatia

Zagreb (AFP) –


World championship leader Kalle Rovanpera crashed out of the Croatia Rally just five kilometres into Friday's opening stage.

The young Finnish driver's Toyota hurtled off a narrow tarmac road and down a steep forest embankment before coming to rest in dense undergrowth after losing control on a right-hand corner.

Both Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen were able to free themselves from the stricken car via the passenger door, with Toyota reporting both were unhurt.

The 20-year-old Rovanpera, the youngest ever championship leader, was first out on the road in this new addition to the WRC calendar.

He arrived in Croatia leading the standings after the first two rallies of the season by four points from Hyundai's Thierry Neuville.

Drivers were back behind the wheel for the first time in two months in very different surroundings to the last race, the Arctic Rally on snow at the end of February, won by Estonian Ott Tanak.

Sebastien Ogier, the reigning world champion, won the opener in Monte Carlo.

The Croatia Rally is made up of 20 stages over 300.32 kilometres through the mountains around Zagreb.