Rovanperä returns to the top with Rally de Portugal triumph
Kalle Rovanperä vaulted to the top of the FIA World Rally Championship standings with a dominant Vodafone Rally de Portugal victory on Sunday afternoon, confirming his second consecutive triumph at the Matosinhos-based event.
The Finn, who had not stood atop the podium since his title-winning run in New Zealand last season, now boasts a 17-point advantage over Ott Tänak five events into this 13-round season.
Rovanperä seized control of the rally when Tänak suffered wheel damage on Friday afternoon, establishing a slender 10.7-second lead by the end of the opening leg.
Unstoppable on Saturday, the Toyota GR Yaris man unleashed a masterful display of five stage wins and widened the gap to a commanding 57.5sec before effortlessly negotiating Sunday’s four-stage finale 54.7sec clear of second-placed Dani Sordo.
“It has been too long coming, but finally we are back,” Rovanperä said. “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.”
Esapekka Lappi made it two i20 N cars inside the top three, scoring his second podium finish in as many rallies. His result helped Hyundai to stay within 32 points of championship-leading manufacturer Toyota Gazoo Racing.
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 M-Sport Ford Puma man Ott Tänak to claim fourth overall while he frustratingly settled for fifth.
There was an exhilarating conclusion to the WRC2 battle as Gus Greensmith claimed the spoils by just 1.2sec from Škoda Fabia rival Oliver Solberg. The latter had led by 35.4sec overnight before being lumbered with a one-minute time penalty.
Andreas Mikkelsen, Yohan Rossel and Teemu Suninen – also contesting WRC2 – completed the leaderboard.
The 56th edition of Portugal’s biggest sporting event attracted 400,000 spectators, helping to secure its place on the WRC calendar in 2024. WRC Promoter Managing Director Jona Siebel and Automóvel Club de Portugal (ACP) President Carlos Barbosa agreed a return in 2024 with an option for 2025.
Competitors face more hot weather and rough roads as the WRC moves to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia next month. Rally Italia Sardegna is based in Olbia on 1 – 4 June.
1. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Toyota GR Yaris 3h 35m 11.7s
2. D Sordo / C Carrera ESP Hyundai i20 N +54.7s
3. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Hyundai i20 N +1min 20.3s
4. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Ford Puma +2m 4.1s
5. T Neuville / M Wydaeghe BEL Hyundai i20 N +8m 22.5s
6. G Greensmith / J Andersson GBR Škoda Fabia +9m 43.4s
Drivers’ championship (after round 5 of 13):
1. K Rovanperä 98pts
2. O Tänak 81pts
3. S Ogier 69pts