Rovanpera triumphs in Portugal to make it a hat-trick of WRC wins

Kalle Rovanpera cemented his position at the head of the World Rally Championship drivers’ standings – and his tag as one of the favourites to lift the title – with a comprehensive Rally de Portugal victory.
Rovanpera triumphs in Portugal to make it a hat-trick of WRC wins

Rovanpera led home team-mate Elfyn Evans by 15.2 seconds, his dominance on the first all-gravel event of 2022 capped off with a wheel-perfect run through the end-of-rally Power Stage which he also won to claim the full five points.

“At the moment it seems that we are on a really good drive,” said Rovanpera, who is now on 106 points, 46 clear of Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville. “To be honest, to start first on the road [on Friday] and to be fighting for the win like this, it’s really nice.”

What had the makings of being a great weekend for Toyota was spoiled right at the death by Hyundai’s Dani Sordo as he denied Takamoto Katsuta a second World Rally career podium.

Rovanpera opened his account on Sunday with a fastest time on ‘Felgueiras’ to inch 2.7 seconds clear of Evans, and found another tenth of a second on the first run over ‘Montim’ to push it to 8.5 seconds.

In response, Evans turned the tables on the antepenultimate stage, trimming the deficit to 6.6 seconds only for Rovanpera to find another gear second time through ‘Felgueiras’ to lead by nearly 10 seconds. That left the points paying Power Stage and Rovanpera kept it neat and tidy to add Portugal to his Croatia Rally and Rally Sweden successes.

Despite missing out on a first win of 2022, Evans was still able to identify the positives. "We definitely needed a result, that's for sure," he said. "Of course, we're disappointed with the outcome of today, but I take my hat off to Kalle. From my side, it's nice to be back on the podium and we should be able to build from here."

Behind the top two there was an equally intriguing battle raging between Katsuta and Hyundai’s Dani Sordo. The pair started the final leg 5.7 seconds apart and the Spaniard – on his first Rally1 outing – made his intentions clear by exerting real pressure to close to within 1.2 seconds of third at the end of the opening test despite revealing “I didn’t drive very good”.

Sordo continued to turn the screw on ‘Montim’ and ‘Fafe’ to sit just eight tenths of a second behind the Yaris driver. If Katusta was supposed to be ruffled it didn’t show; he traversed ‘Felgueiras 2’ 1.4 seconds faster to leave the pair split by 2.2 seconds.

Despite learning on the job, Sordo would not be denied and pulled it out of the bag on the Power Stage to snatch the last podium place by 2.1 seconds. “I’m so sorry for the team,” said Katsuta. “I tried – but obviously not enough. I’m just not good enough – I need to improve more. I have no words to be honest,” he added.

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville - third fastest on the Power Stage - rounded out the top five places, with sixth going to his team-mate, Ott Tanak. Seventh, eighth and ninth spots were taken by the M-Sport Ford trio of Pierre-Louis Loubet, Craig Breen and Adrien Fourmaux.

A brake issue cost Breen dear over the closing miles of the rally and gifted the much-needed Championship points to Tanak. "It seems like a problem with one of the calipers," the Irishman explained. "Like I said - it's disappointing. It's something that popped its head up yesterday evening and we didn't think it was going to be that much of a problem today."



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