Rovanperä snatches Portuguese Victory

Kalle Rovanperä claimed his third FIA World Rally Championship victory in Portugal, opening a commanding lead in the points standings. The Finn trailed long-time leader and Toyota GR Yaris team-mate Elfyn Evans for the first two days at Vodafone Rally de Portugal before taking the lead on Saturday evening and extending a slender advantage on the short final leg to win by 15.2sec. Rovanperä's triumph on the first gravel fixture of the season followed success on Sweden's snow and ice and Croatia's asphalt. He holds a 46-point championship advantage after four of 13 rounds.

On Friday's opening day Rovanperä started first on the road and cleaned the sandy stages to leave more grip for those following, but the 21-year-old avoided trouble on the punishing rock-strewn roads before intelligently making his move on Evans. Maximum bonus points for winning the final Wolf Power Stage over the legendary Fafe speed test was the icing on the cake for the young Finn who drove with relentless consistency.

Second was the best result of the season for Evans, who won six of the 21 speed tests compared to Rovanperä's eight and marked a return to form for the man who has finished championship runner-up for the last two seasons after a torrid start to this year's championship.

Toyota Gazoo Racing was on course to lockout the podium with Takamoto Katsuta holding third ahead of the final stage. But a fast-closing Dani Sordo, making his first appearance of the season in a Hyundai i20 N, moved ahead in the final kilometres by 2.1sec. His teammate Thierry Neuville fell away from the victory fight on Friday when a front wheel fell off his i20 N on a liaison section. He drove the final two stages with just two-wheel drive and plunged from second to seventh, but recovered to take fifth, 18.4sec behind Katsuta.

Brake problems cost Craig Breen sixth. The Irishman conceded two places on the final day in his M-Sport Ford Puma, allowing Ott Tänak into sixth in an i20. The Estonian steadily gained ground after two Friday punctures ended his challenge. Pierre-Louis Loubet steered his Puma into seventh, despite similar problems to Breen. Adrien Fourmaux and last-gasp WRC2 winner Yohan Rossel completed the leaderboard. Former multi WRC champions Sebastiens' Loeb and Ogier both fell by the wayside early in the rally, Loeb uncharacteristically against an unyielding wall just after starting an early stage after a storming start.

Competitors face more hot weather and rough roads as the WRC moves to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia next month for Rally Italia Sardegna based in Alghero on 2 - 5 June.

22nd May, 2022