Dominant Rally Portugal win gives Rovanpera WRC points lead
Defending champ Kalle Rovanpera vaulted to the top of the FIA World Rally Championship standings with a dominant Rally Portugal victory on Sunday afternoon.
It was the Toyota Gazoo Racing driver’s second consecutive triumph at the Matosinhos-based all-gravel event, and his first time on top of a WRC podium since his title-clinching victory in New Zealand last October.
After going fastest on the rally-closing, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage (above), too, the 22-year-old Finn now holds a 17-point advantage over M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tanak after round five of 2023’s 13-rally season.
Rovanpera seized control of Rally Portugal when Tanak suffered wheel damage on Friday afternoon’s rough and dusty stages, establishing a slender 10.7s lead by the end of the opening leg.
Unstoppable on Saturday, he unleashed a masterful display of five stage wins in his GR Yaris Rally1 and widened the gap to a commanding 57.5s at the overnight halt, before effortlessly negotiating Sunday’s four-stage final leg to finish 54.7s clear of second-placed Dani Sordo’s Hyundai i20 N Rally1.
“It has been too long coming, but finally we are back,” said Rovanpera. “I have to say a big thank you to Jonne (Halttunen, co-driver) and the team. They have been pushing all the time and going forward.”
Defending WRC champs Kalle Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen celebrated their first win of 2023. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT photo
Esapekka Lappi made it two factory Hyundais inside the top three, scoring his second podium finish in as many rallies. His result helped Hyundai Motorsport to stay within 32 points of Toyota Gazoo Racing in the fight for the WRC manufacturers’ championship.
Thierry Neuville began the day in third, but a broken turbocharger left his Hyundai severely down on power. Time poured away as he limped through the closing stages, allowing Tanak’s Puma Rally1 to claim fourth overall while the Belgian frustratingly settled for fifth.
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville missed out on a podium spot after turbocharger issues. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, an exhilarating final leg saw Gus Greensmith pip a disconsolate Oliver Solberg to the class spoils by just 1.2s.
The Briton went to bed on Saturday evening thinking he was trailing Solberg by a seemingly insurmountable 35.4s heading into Sunday’s finale. But when the Swede was later handed a one-minute time penalty for performing “donuts” after the flying finish of Saturday’s closing stage — a breach of the WRC’s sporting regulations — the tables were turned.
Greensmith’s task — to keep his newly-acquired 24.6s advantage intact over the remaining four speed tests — was easier said than done. A heavy landing over the famous Pedra Sentada jump in the first run through Fafe not only claimed his Skoda Fabia RS’s front bumper, but it also caused a power steering fault.
Solberg hunted down his rival, topping the WRC2 times on the first three tests of the day to trail Greensmith by 8.7s before the rally-closing, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage. The Skoda-driving 21-year old was fastest there, too – but not by enough as Greensmith walked away with victory by just 1.2s.
Gus Greensmith inherited the WRC2 lead, lost a bumper, but clung on for a close-fought win. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
“I tried, anyway,” said Solberg at the finish. “I drove too slow on the long (Cabeceiras de Basto) stage. It’s been a great weekend really — very consistent and with good speed again. It’s really a shame about everything that happened, but that’s how it is.”
WRC2 returnee and former class champ Andreas Mikkelsen made it a Fabia podium lockout, trailing Solberg by 41.8s at the finish. He headed Citroen C3 driver Yohan Rossel by more than a minute, the Frenchman retaining the WRC2 championship lead with his fourth place.
Next up, the WRC crews face more hot weather and rough roads as the series moves to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia for round 6 and the Olbia-based Rally Italy, June 1-4.
WRC Rally Portugal, final positions after Day Three, SS19
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3h35m11.7s
2 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +54.7s
3 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m20.3s
4 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m04.1s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +8m22.5s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +9m43.4s
7 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +9m44.6s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +10m26.4s
9 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +11m33.2s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N – WRC2) +12m16.3s
WRC Drivers’ Championship after 5 rounds
1 Rovanpera 93 points
2 Tanak 77
3 Sebastien Ogier 69
4 Elfyn Evans 69
5 Neuville 68
WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 5 rounds
1 Toyota Gazoo Racing 194 points
2 Hyundai Motorsport 165
3 M-Sport Ford 130
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