Rovanpera Holds Lead in Portugal

Reigning World Rally champion Kalle Rovanpera has nurtured a commanding on Rally Portugal after starting the rally in an advantageous position on the gravel tracks and blitzing Saturday morning's loop of stages. The Toyota driver started the day with a 10.8s advantage but a stunning drive resulted in the Finn to clean sweep the trio of stages to open up a 52.4s-lead over Hyundai's Dani Sordo, with Esapekka Lappi moving his i20 to third, 57.0s adrift, but ahead of Thierry Neuville and M-Sport's Ott Tanak after team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet crashed out of fifth on stage 10.

Rovanpera produced the drive of the rally on stage 9 (Vieira do Minho 26.61km) after delivering a stunning time, 12.8s faster than the next best set by Lappi. Making the most of the last-starting position of the Rally1 runners, Rovanpera more than doubled his overall rally lead on his way to a fifth stage win of the rally. When asked to explain his speed, he replied: "I just woke up today and thought we should drive a bit of rally, so that is what we tried to do."

Lappi was unhappy with his performance but it was enough to climb from fifth to third overall. His effort was 0.5s quicker than Sordo as he began to chip away at the gap between his more experienced team-mate sitting second overall. The third Hyundai of Neuville moved to fourth after M-Sport's Loubet suffered damage to his rear wing and dropped 6.6s to the Belgian.

The battle at the front changed complexion again after Rovanpera won stage 10 (Amarante 37.24km), the longest of the rally. The Finn was 3.3s faster than Tanak, who was continuing his recovery from a puncture on Friday's stage four albeit struggling with his Puma.

"We could improve the balance a bit from the previous stage but I am still having quite a massive struggle with the suspension," he said. "I'm still riding this wild horse. It is like I've never driven a rally car before, it's so challenging." Rovanpera's lead ballooned to 45.8s courtesy of a struggling Sordo, who was battling with his soft tyres. Sordo's time loss combined with Lappi's improved pace brought the latter back into the fight for second overall, with only 3.3s separating the duo heading into the morning's final stage. The leaderboard did however undergo a change when Loubet crashed out of the rally less than a kilometre from the stage end. The Frenchman clipped a bank with his left front which appeared to break the steering and send his Puma across the road and into another bank.

The stage continued with the car partially blocking the road which required drivers to slow down to navigate around the stricken Puma. "It is a very small mistake he has made but unfortunately it has put him out for the day," said M-Sport team principal Richard Millener.

"It is really frustrating for him but there is positives to take but I know for a fact that will be difficult for him to concentrate on right at this moment. It is really disappointing for him."
Rovanpera completed his perfect morning by winning stage 11 by 5.7s from Neuville, with Sordo a further 0.9s slower. Lappi dropped time to Neuville which reduced the overall gap between the pair to 0.9s.

The stage wasn't without drama as Takamoto Katsuta, who rejoined the rally after Friday's alternator failure, spun during the test. The Japanese recovered to reach the stage finish.
Despite a spin on stage nine, Oliver Solberg led Toksport team-mate Gus Greensmith by 37.0s in WRC2. The crews will tackle four more stages this afternoon following a midday service.

13th May, 2023