Rovanperä and Halttunen lead after day one in Portugal

12 maio 2023

Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen overcame the disadvantage of running second on the road to secure a 10.8-second lead after a punishing opening leg of the 56th Vodafone Rally of Portugal on Friday.

In dry and often abrasive and rough stage conditions, the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid duo won three specials, stayed clear of serious issues and snatched the lead for the first time on stage five

“It has been a good day to be honest,” said the defending World Champion. “A lot of cleaning but we did a strong day and we looked after the car and the tyres.”

Dani Sordo and Candido Carrera held a miniscule overall lead after the fourth stage and pushed the Finns hard all day, but the Spaniard missed a junction and a braking point in Mortágua, dropped vital seconds and finished the day in second place in the first of the Hyundai i20s.

Two stage wins enabled Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm to move up the leader board in their Hyundai, the Finns becoming embroiled in a titanic little battle for the final podium place with team-mates Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe and Pierre-Louis Loubet and Nicolas Gilsoul in the first of the M-Sport Ford Pumas.

Neuville managed to regain third on the final super special, while Loubet had won the first stage and led a WRC event for the first time before slipping back to hold fourth at the night halt. Lappi was fifth.

Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja won the second stage and led for two specials in their Ford Puma before being forced to stop to change a puncture. It was frustrating for the Estonians, who then spent the rest or the day conserving their tyres and erring on the side of caution to reach the evening’s service at Exponor in sixth.  

Reported electrical issues side-lined Takamoto Katsuta’s Toyota after only two stages and joint WRC leader Elfyn Evans left the road at speed in stage seven, badly managed his Toyota Yaris and lost out on a top six place after running first on the road in unfavourable stage conditions all day.

Solberg in charge in WRC2

Tyre issues, punctures and a certain amount of good fortune determined the positions in the WRC2 category.

Young Oliver Solberg stayed clear of trouble, conserved his Škoda Fabia and his tyres to reach the night halt with a lead of 50.2 seconds. “It’s been a good day,” said the Swede. “So rough and so much rocks and so much going on. A good clean day, fast and no punctures, That’s good.”

Many of Solberg’s fancied rivals suffered punctures and tyre woes. Both Teemu Suninen and Adrien Fourmaux were the early pace-setters, before punctures dropped them out of contention and a tyre change also ruined Andreas Mikkelsen’s chance to gain the lead.

With Fabrizio Zaldivar, Nikolay Gryazin and Kris Meeke stopped in the carnage of stage four, Gus Greensmith overcame his own puncture and was handed time back that he had earlier lost in the dust behind Mikkelsen to hold second.

Yohan Rossel’s cause was not helped by a 40-second time penalty for a late stage arrival after a wheel issue and the Citroën C3 driver slipped to third overall. Bolivia’s Marco Bulacia lost time in stage seven and slipped behind a resurgent fourth-placed Mikkelsen.

Korhonen on top in WRC3

Roope Korhonen and Toni Herranen were drawn together in a two-way fight for WRC3 supremacy in their Ford Fiesta Rally3s. Herranen retired on the second pass of Arganil to leave his Finnish rival well out in front before the super special stage.

Spain’s Alexander Villanueva and German veteran Armin Kremer were the pace-setters in the WRC Masters Cup after seven stages.

Friday – as it happened

Joint championship leader Evans was given the task of sweeping the track surface and opening the road through the 12.03km of Lousã. The Welshman took his punishment with good grace and carded a target time of 9min 10.6sec but ceded 5.3 seconds to Rovanperä and 5.6 to Tänak.

Neuville admitted to being a little too careful to conserve his tyres on a stage where there was some hanging dust for the cars running down the order. Loubet and Sordo took advantage of their start positions to set the fastest times with the Frenchman leading the Spaniard by three-tenths of a second to claim a third ever stage win. Suninen and Fourmaux were the early pace-setters in WRC2 on a stage where Grégoire Munster rolled out of contention.

Action continued with the 19.33km of Góis. By running first on the road and cleaning the track surface, Evans had been the slowest of all the Rally1 drivers through the opener and the Toyota driver continued to haemorrhage time in SS2. He dropped 11.1 seconds to a flying Tänak and 6.4 seconds to Katsuta.

Tänak’s fastest time gave the Estonian the outright lead, as Sordo was second quickest and held second place, a mere half a second behind the former World Champion. Loubet was fifth on the stage and slipped to third overall. It was a good start for the M-Sport Ford World Rally Team with two fastest times and a one-three in the overall standings.

Fourmaux had the measure of the early WRC2 runners and moved into a 3.9-second lead over Solberg.

A first pass though the famous Arganil (18.72km) special brought the morning’s loop to a close before a regroup and tyre fitting zone. A frustrated Evans continued to leak time to his rivals, as Rovanperä benefitted from minor changes to the settings on the Yaris to top the early times and move up to second place, three seconds behind Tänak. Katsuta had complained of voltage issues on the third Yaris after the first stage and the Japanese did not start the stage.

Lappi was stunned to discover he had dropped 16.8 seconds to Rovanperä. The time loss put the Finn behind Evans and into seventh place in the overall standings. Mikkelsen was the quickest of the early WRC2 drivers on a stage where Sami Pajari stopped after four kilometres and Fourmaux saw his lead trimmed to 6.1 seconds.

The action resumed with a second pass through Lousã. Katsuta had not started the third stage, so the Rally1 field was whittled down to seven for the afternoon loop.

Evans shaved five seconds off his morning’s run but still ceded five to Rovanperä. The Finn temporarily inherited the outright lead when Tänak suffered a frnt-right puncture, dropped 50.1 seconds and slipped to seventh overall.

Esapekka Lappi was a man on a mission, however, and the Finn gave Hyundai its first stage win of the weekend. Sordo was second quickest but it was enough for the Spaniard to snatch the outright lead from Rovanperä by just four-tenths of a second.

Mikkelsen was forced to stop and change a puncture, dropped 55 seconds and plummeted down the WRC2 rankings on a stage where Greensmith lost time in his dust, Solberg was quickest and Fourmaux continued to lead the category by 2.5 seconds. Both Nikolay Gryazin and Fabrizio Zaldivar stopped in the stage with tyre issues and were joined by Kris Meeke, who had been suffering damper issues during the morning,

Góis 2 was the second stage of the afternoon loop. Evans was six seconds slower than his morning’s run on the second pass across the deteriorating track surface. Rovanperä moved a further 12.9 seconds away from the Welshman and 7.9 away from a cautious Tänak.  

It was a much better stage for Neuville and the Belgian finished four-tenths of a second behind the Finn to consolidate his third place. Sordo was third quickest and relinquished the advantage to the new overall leader Rovanperä – the Finn led the rally by just eight-tenths of a second. He became the fourth outright leader in the first five stages!

Solberg was embroiled in a gripping duel with Fourmaux for WRC2 supremacy and the pendulum swung in the young Swede’s favour when his rival stopped for over two minutes with a puncture. Solberg left the stage 3.5 seconds ahead of Suninen.

A second pass through Arganil was the last of the repeat runs of the day but the track surface had deteriorated very badly. Evans was 14 seconds slower on his second run after picking up a rear slow puncture near the finish.

Rovanperä stayed clear of trouble to post an unbeatable target and Sordo dropped 2.1 seconds to the defending World Champion, who saw his rally lead grow to 2.9 seconds. Lappi overcame a right-rear puncture to retain fifth overall behind Loubet and Neuville.

Solberg increased his WRC2 lead to 11.1 seconds after his closest rival Suninen stopped to change a flat tyre that he sustained on a straight piece of track. Rossel moved up to second.

Mikkelsen was the quickest of the leading group, but Greensmith drove to the finish on a puncture and Fourmaux stopped in the special to change another tyre. Sami Pajari also stopped again.

With many crews struggling on worn tyres the single pass through the Mortágua (18.15km) stage was decisive.

Evans’s frustrating day running first on the road ended when he crashed heavily off the road after 13.8km. The Welshman’s demise lifted Tänak into sixth place. But there was no stopping Rovanperä, who had been forced to open the road after his team-mate’s demise. The Finn was second quickest and headed to the final stage with a lead of 14.2 seconds after Sordo missed a junction and was forced to select reverse gear after 11km.

A frustrating stage time for Neuville saw the Belgian slip to fifth behind Lappi - who claimed a second stage win of the day for Hyundai - and Loubet.

Mikkelsen was the class of the WRC2 field but Solberg extended his overall lead after Rossel incurred a 40-second time penalty for a late start arrival.

The Figueira da Foz super special concluded the day’s action, where Sordo was fastest and trimmed Rovanperä’s lead to 10.8 seconds.


The timetable for day two features seven special stages and 148.68 competitive kilometres in a route of 667.88km. The day is split into two loops of three demanding gravel stages and a televised finale of 3.36km at the Lousada rallycross circuit to wrap up proceedings in the evening.

Action gets underway with the Vieira do Minho (26.61km) stage at 07.35hrs and this precedes the longest stage of the rally – the 37.24km of Amarante – from 09.05hrs. Felgueiras (8.81km) completes the loop from 10.35hrs before a return to Exponor for a midday regroup and service.

The three gravel specials are repeated in the afternoon at 15.05hrs, 16.35hrs and 18.05hrs, respectively, before the Lousada spectator special takes centre stage from 19.05hrs.

2023 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – positions after SS8: 

1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid        1hr 22min 27.7sec

2. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Candido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid                 1hr 22min 38.5sec             

3. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid         1hr 22min 53.7sec

4. Pierre Louis Loubet (FRA)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid           1hr 22min 54.6sec

5. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid                   1hr 22min 55.0sec

6. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid                          1hr 23min 32.4sec

7. Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Elliot Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2)              1hr 26min 15.9sec     

8. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2)           1hr 27min 06.1sec

9. Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Arnaud Dunand (FRA) Citroën C3 (WRC2)                            1hr 27min 16.1sec

10. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2)        1hr 27min 57.0sec

Rally leaders 

SS1           Pierre-Louis Loubet

SS2-3        Ott Tänak

SS4           Dani Sordo

SS5-8        Kalle Rovanperä

Stage winners 

SS1           Pierre-Louis Loubet

SS2           Ott Tänak

SS3           Kalle Rovanperä

SS4           Esapekka Lappi

SS5           Kalle Rovanperä

SS6           Kalle Rovanperä

SS7           Esapekka Lappi

SS8           Dani Sordo

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