Rovanpera closes on WRC Rally Portugal win after Saturday charge
Just four stages stand between reigning WRC champ Kalle Rovanpera and his first win of 2023 after the Finn obliterated his rivals on Rally Portugal’s Saturday leg.
Unyielding and unstoppable, the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 driver (above) unleashed an onslaught of raw speed as he romped to fastest times on five of the day’s seven grueling gravel special stages. What started as a modest overnight lead of 10.7s was transformed into a mighty advantage of almost one minute by the end of the leg on the penultimate day.
Rovanpera launched his attack from the morning’s first stage, more than quadrupling his lead before the mid-leg service halt. He delivered further blows when the classic roads of Vieira do Minho and Amarante were repeated in the afternoon, widening the gap further in rough and dusty conditions more reminiscent of Safari Rally Kenya than Portugal. Even a loss of intercom — and pace notes from co-driver Jonne Halttunen — before the day’s short final stage couldn’t put the 22-year-old Finn off his stride.
“My headphones broke on the last stage of the day, so we were lucky it was here and not in the forest!” he quipped. “But, yes, a good day for me, so let’s see how tomorrow goes.”
Rovanpera, who’s only managed one podium in the first four rounds of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship, enters Sunday’s short closing leg 57.5s ahead of Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo.
Part-season driver Sordo, starting his third WRC round of the campaign, quickly diverted his attention to the chasing i20 N Rally 1 cars of his teammates, Esapekka Lappi and Thierry Neuville.
Lappi closed in on the Spaniard early in the day, climbing from fifth to third overall on the first pass of Vieira do Minho. But the Finn’s pace faded in the afternoon and he was passed by Belgian Neuville, who finished just 2.3s ahead of him and 11.1s adrift of Sordo. If Hyundai lets its drivers fight it out, it should make for an interesting Sunday.
Esapekka Lappi heads into Sunday’s final leg just 2.3s behind Hyundai teammate Thierry Neuville. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
M-Sport Ford’s Pierre-Louis Loubet retired close to the finish of Amarante 1 when a heavy impact damaged his Puma Rally1’s steering, allowing his teammate, Ott Tanak, to profit by seizing fifth overall. The Estonian dropped time with wheel damage on Friday and languishes 2m21.8s back from the lead after an off-the-pace Saturday.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Oliver Solberg remains in control despite Saturday’s stages serving up some drama for the Skoda Fabia RS driver.
The 21-year-old Swede finished Friday with a comfortable 50.2s advantage over Gus Greensmith’s similar Skoda, but he saw that margin whittled down to 35.4s by close of play.
Solberg gave away more than 10s with a spin in the Vieira do Minho opener and he found it difficult to manage the wear of his Pirelli tires. A mystery issue which sapped engine power also struck in the afternoon’s first stage, while Greensmith posted a string of top-three stage times aboard his Fabia RS to whittle down the gap.
“It’s great to be here,” Solberg said after the final stage. “It’s been a good day — consistent, but also super-rough this afternoon, so we were just taking it steady.”
Oliver Solberg retains his WRC2 lead, despite some dramas for the Skoda driver. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool
After suffering a puncture in his Skoda on Friday, WRC2 returnee and former champ Andreas Mikkelsen made major gains in his comeback mission. The Norwegian grabbed third in the class from Citroen C3 pilot Yohan Rossel in Vieira do Minho 2, going on to trail Greensmith by 53.0s at close of play.
Sunday’s final leg is all about the spectacular Fafe stage, its big jump before the finish and its massive and enthusiastic crowds. Four tests, including two hits of Fafe, make for a total of 33.44 competitive miles, with the second blast through Fafe as the rally-closing, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.
WRC Rally Portugal, leading positions after Day Two, SS15
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 2h59m48.6s
2 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +57.5s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m08.6s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m10.9s
5 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +2m21.8s
6 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 leader) +8m08.3s
7 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +8m43.7s
8 Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +9m36.7s
9 Yohan Rossel/Arnaud Dunand (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +9m58.1s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N – WRC2) +11m13.2s
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