MATOSINHOS (PORTUGAL): Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen completely dominated the second day of the 56th Vodafone Rally of Portugal and won five of the seven special stages on their way to a lead of 57.5 seconds on Saturday evening.
The Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid found a different level of pace to their rivals over two loops of gravel speed tests and one sprint around the Lousada rallycross track and have now won eight of the 15 stages run so far.
“I don’t really feel today was so special,” said the defending World Champion. “I lost my intercom on the last gravel stage and had a careful run through the final stage. Now we can look forward to tomorrow with a good lead.”
As Rovanperä headed off into the distance, a fascinating three-way fight developed between the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team drivers, Dani Sordo, Thierry Neuville and Esapekka Lappi, in the scrap for second, third and fourth overall.
Sordo has earned six podium finishes in Portugal during his career and the 40-year-old and co-driver Candido Carrera are well placed to make it seven. They hold second overall at the final night halt.
Neuville and Lappi have swapped places on four occasions and it’s the Belgian and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe who hold a small advantage of 2.3 seconds over Lappi and Janne Ferm heading into the final morning.
The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja reached the final night halt in a lonely fifth place, sandwiched between the battling Hyundais and the leading WRC2 crews. The Estonian’s team-mate Pierre Louis-Loubet blotted his copybook on the first pass through Amarante when he slid into a tree root, was catapulted across the track into a banking and damaged the Ford Puma’s steering.
With Elfyn Evans side-lined following his heavy accident on Friday, the Welshman’’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Takamoto Katsuta rounded off the Rally1 runners but was running well down the overall leader board after alternator woes and his premature retirement from the opening leg.
Solberg maintains WRC2 lead
Oliver Solberg managed his pace and tyres well to maintain the WRC2 lead in his Toksport Škoda Fabia, although team-mate Gus Greensmith had nibbled away at the Swede’s advantage throughout the day. The duo were separated by 35.4 seconds at the night halt.
“It’s been a good day, consistent and super rough this afternoon,” said Solberg. “Just taking it steady. But I went for a big push on the last gravel stage.”
Andreas Mikkelsen had been the fastest driver on the day’s stages and technical issues for rival Yohan Rossel enabled the Norwegian to move into third place. Rossel is fourth and a time-consuming puncture for Bolivia’s Marco Bulacia in Amarante 2 enabled Teemu Suninen to snatch fifth in his Hyundai i20 N.
Korhonen in command in WRC3
Roope Korhonen began the second day with a massive lead in WRC3 over fellow Finn Toni Herranen, who had restarted this morning after technical issues on Friday. Korhonen remains firmly on course for maximum points in the WRC’s third tier category after Herranen retired his Ford Fiesta Rally3 again after SS11.
Spain’s Alexander Villanueva finds himself well clear of the WRC Masters Cup field in his Škoda after the morning retirement of German veteran Armin Kremer.
Armindo Araújo remains firmly on course to be the leading Portuguese driver at the finish after engine issues side-lined closest rival Miguel Correia after SS13.
Saturday – as it happened
With his alternator woes behind him after the disappointing retirement on Friday morning, Katsuta was given ‘road-sweeping’ duties at the head of the 77-car field for the start of day two and 148.68 competitive kilometres in a route of 667.88km. Action got underway with a first pass through Vieira do Minho (26.61km) to the east of Porto – a test that was first used on this event 31 years ago.
A low early morning sun made visibility difficult in places for the first crews and Katsuta carded the target time of 17min 22.2sec on the sandy and slippery surface. Neuville was on a morning mission, despite lacking confidence with the grip and the loose handling of the rear of his Hyundai, and the Belgian was 3.3 seconds quicker than Tänak with Loubet dropping time behind. Lappi was also quick out of the blocks and the Finn ran even faster and regained third overall from the Belgian.
A flying Rovanperä utilised his favourable road position to set the quickest time and extend his lead over second-placed Sordo to 24.1 seconds. He beat Lappi by 12.8 seconds on the stage.
Solberg survived a spin and that time loss enabled Greensmith to close to within 40.8 seconds of the WRC2 lead. Rossel was 21 seconds slower than the Briton and slipped over half a minute behind in the fight for third. Estonia’s Georg Linnamäe rolled his Hyundai i20 N out of contention.
Amarante (37.24km) was the longest stage of the rally and next on the morning’s itinerary. Tänak began to turn up the heat on Loubet and the Estonian was closing in on the Frenchman in the rankings when his team-mate ran sideways, clipped a tree root on the left-hand side of the track and the impact slammed the Puma into the banking on the opposite side of the stage, the impact breaking the suspension.
The former World Champion duly inherited fifth and also began to close in on the battle for second and third between the Hyundai trio of Sordo, Lappi and Neuville. The trio were separated by just six seconds in second, third and fourth places.
Rovanperä was again the class of the field and the flying Finn secured another stage win and increased his advantage over Sordo to 45.8 seconds. Greensmith trimmed Solberg’s WRC2 advantage by another 2.5 seconds and Mikkelsen closed to within nine of a struggling Rossel in the fight for third.
The last stage of the loop was the 8.81km of Felgueiras before the return to Exponor for a midday regroup and service.
Katsuta emerged unscathed from a low-speed spin and Neuville benefitted from stiffer suspension to get the better of Tänak and close to within 0.9 seconds of Lappi in the fight to regain third place. Sordo ceded a similar amount of time to the Belgian and retained second place but a clinical Rovanperä was again quickest and extended his runaway lead to 52.4 seconds.
Greensmith trimmed Solberg’s WRC2 lead to 37 seconds and Mikkelsen closed to within 6.4 of Rossel.
The re-run of Vieira do Minho was the first stage of the afternoon loop. Katsuta complained of fine dust inside the car, although the Japanese was able to comfortably beat his morning’s run. A somewhat disgruntled Tänak was slower than his first pass and ceded 9.7 seconds to Neuville, although the Belgian slipped 5.8 seconds behind Lappi in Hyundai’s internal team battle for third.
Sordo strengthened his grip on second by 0.1 seconds but Rovanperä continued to edge clear at the front of the field. Another fastest time, albeit by 2.8 seconds, gave the Finn a lead of 55.2 seconds. Solberg complained of a lack of power and dropped 1.3 seconds to Greensmith and Mikkelsen displaced Rossel to snatch third.
A repeat run through Amarante - the longest stage of the season so far – followed in warmer afternoon temperatures. Tänak had to run a large part of the stage with a large crack in the windscreen partly in his eyeline and the Estonian dropped several seconds to the stage-opening Katsuta.
Neuville had the bit between his teeth and the Belgian found a strong rhythm that enabled him to overhaul Lappi and regain third by just 2.7 seconds. Second-placed Sordo was faster than both his team-mates and edged 12.8 seconds clear of Neuville and the Spaniard was quickest overall by seven-tenths of a second and prevented Rovanperä from winning his fifth stage of the day.
Greensmith shaved another five seconds off Solberg’s WRC2 advantage on a stage where a delaminating tyre cost Bulacia over a minute and he slipped into Suninen’s clutches in the battle for fifth. Mikkelsen was quickest.
Felgueiras 2 completed the loop of three gravel stages before the final 3.36km sprint at the Lousada rallycross circuit. Lappi managed to beat Neuville and trim the Belgian’s hold on third to just 2.2 seconds.
Sordo was a cautious fifth to maintain second place but it was back to business as usual for Rovanperä, who claimed his fifth stage win of the day and his eighth of the weekend to lead by 59.4 seconds. Solberg increased his WRC2 advantage over Greensmith to 34.8 seconds.
Two laps on each lane of the famous Lousada track brought the curtain down on the day’s action in front of a massive crowd with the cars running in pairs. Sordo claimed the bragging rights with his second stage win of the day, but Rovanperä drove cautiously to a comfortable overnight lead without an intercom on the Lousada stage.
Action on the final morning revolves around four special stages and two passes through the famous Fafe test.
A section of the Shakedown makes up the 11.05km of the opening blast through Paredes from 07.05hrs and this precedes the first run through Fafe (11.18km) at 08.35hrs and the 22.01km of Cabeceiras de Basto, which could well provide to be a sting in the tail from 09.35hrs.
The event concludes with the traditional Wolf Power Stage run through Fafe with the first car live from 12.15hrs.
2023 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – positions after SS15:
1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 2hr 59min 48.6sec
2. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Candido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 00min 46.1sec
3. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 00min 57.2sec
4. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 00min 59.9sec
5. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 02min 10.4sec
6. Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Elliot Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 07min 56.9sec
7. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 08min 32.3sec
8. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 09min 25.3sec
9. Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Arnaud Dunand (FRA) Citroën C3 (WRC2) 3hr 09min 46.7sec
10. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Hyundai i20 N (WRC2) 3hr 11min 01.8sec
11. Marco Bulacia (BOL)/Diego Vallejo (ESP) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 11min 21.7sec
SS1 Pierre-Louis Loubet
SS2-3 Ott Tänak
SS4 Dani Sordo
SS5-15 Kalle Rovanperä
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
SS9 Kalle Rovanperä
SS10 Kalle Rovanperä
SS11 Kalle Rovanperä
SS12 Kalle Rovanperä
SS13 Dani Sordo
SS14 Kalle Rovanperä
SS15 Dani Sordo