Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen delivered a performance masterclass to seal a second successive victory at the Vodafone Rally of Portugal on Sunday.
The defending World Champions hit the front on the fifth stage on Friday, won 10 of the 19 special stages and controlled their pace over the final morning to earn a first win of the season and a 17-point lead for the Finn in the Drivers’ Championship.
The Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid driver had taken one second and three fourth-place finishes this season before demolishing his rivals in Portugal to seal the ninth WRC victory of his short career and the first since New Zealand last autumn.
The success was the fourth in five 2023 events for the Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team and keeps the Japanese marque at the top of the WRC Manufacturers’ Championship.
“It has been too long coming and finally we are back,” said the defending World Champion, who had a winning margin of 54.7 seconds. “A big thanks to Jonne and the team. They have been pushing all the time as well. Now we are back.”
The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team looked set for second, third and fourth overall before technical issues on the final morning pushed Thierry Neuville down to fifth. Dani Sordo finished second with co-driver Candido Carrera and the 40-year-old duly claimed his seventh career podium finish in Portugal.
Sordo said: “I think we drove very well. I want to say thanks to Craig (Breen). He was with me all the whole rally and he pushed me to the limits. I give this result to his mom and dad. I did this for them.”
Esapekka Lappi and Janne Ferm safely guided their i20 N Rally1 Hybrid to the last step of the podium and the Finn moved into contention for a mid-season push for the Drivers’ Championship.
Neuville’s and Martijn Wydaeghe’s challenge for second place was ruined when the Belgians lost all their i20’s power with a turbo issue on the first stage of the morning and limped around the day’s route, leaking time continuously. They managed to hold on to fifth overall but were unable to push for additional points on the Power Stage.
The M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja were gifted fourth place after Neuville’s issues and the Estonian moves up to second in the Drivers’ Championship after five rounds.
Tänak said: “Very demanding weekend obviously. It was challenging. We have some great weaknesses at the moment that we need to get sorted. Now the engineers need to get it sorted. It’s up to them now.”
Team-mates, Pierre Louis-Loubet and Nicolas Gilsoul, led the event outright after stage one and then dropped out of contention on day two following an accident that damaged their Puma’s steering. Like Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s Takamoto Katsuta and Aaron Johnston – who had suffered s first day alternator failure – they returned to gain further experience and challenge for Power Stage points. Both crews finished well down the leader board.
Greensmith holds off Solberg to win WRC2
England’s Gus Greensmith held off a ferocious challenge from Oliver Solberg on the final Power Stage to seal a second WRC2 win of the campaign by just 1.2 seconds. The Swede had been the leader on Saturday evening, only to be awarded a one-minute time penalty in the early hours of Sunday morning for entertaining the spectators at Lousada with doughnuts in his Škoda Fabia.
That contravened the sport’s strict sporting regulations but the youngster mounted a spirited charge over the final morning to try and catch Greensmith in a thrilling climax before coming up just short by the narrowest of margins.
Andreas Mikkelsen fought back from a costly stop to change a puncture on day one to round off the podium places and give the Czech manufacturer and the Germany-based Toksport team a 1-2-3 WRC2 finish.
Frenchman Yohan Rossel had won his first two events of the season and came home in fourth on this occasion in his Citroën C3. Teemu Suninen (Hyundai i20 N) was fifth and sixth-placed Bolivian Marco Bulacia claimed maximum points in the WRC2 Challenger category.
Korhonen wins WRC3
Roope Korhonen romped to a comfortable win in WRC3 after Toni Herranen retired on two occasions and finished a long way behind in the WRC’s third tier category. The two Finnish Ford Fiesta Rally3 drivers were the only entrants in the class in Portugal.
Villaneuva on top in WRC Masters Cup
Spain’s Alexander Villanueva finished 19th and confirmed victory and maximum points in the WRC Masters Cup, while local hero Armindo Araújo finished as the leading Portuguese driver in 17th overall.
Sunday – as it happened
WRC2 leader Solberg was handed a one-minute time penalty overnight for entertaining the crowds with doughnuts at the end of the Lousada special stage on Saturday evening. The time penalty was imposed by the Stewards on the grounds that the driver breached Art. 12.21 of the Supplementary Regulations in conjunction with Art. 34.1.3 of the FIA’s 2023 Sporting Regulations.
It meant the Swede slipped behind Greensmith before the leading cars headed to the first stage of the morning – the 11.05km of Paredes. Road-opening duties again fell to eventual stage winner Katsuta and Loubet, who drove cautiously to conserve his tyres for a final stage push for additional points.
Tänak struggled with a hybrid issue, Lappi was in tyre-saving mode but Neuville was in the wars with a serious technical problem. The Belgian had entered the media zone last night with smoke coming from the i20 and complained of no power on the stage: he dropped 1min 26sec on the opener and plummeted to fifth behind Tänak.
Rovanperä was second quickest and held a 58-second lead, while Solberg managed to trim Greensmith’s WRC2 lead to 22.1 seconds with three stages remaining.
The first of two passes through the famous Fafe stage (11.18km) was next on the agenda. Many spectators had camped out overnight under the stars to obtain the best viewing locations for one of the most exciting spectacles in the WRC calendar – the legendary Fafe jump by the flying finish.
Tänak still complained about the lack of a hybrid but the Estonian managed to get the better of Katsuta and Loubet. Neuville was able to continue but there was no speed from the i20 and the dejected Belgian haemorrhaged another one and a half minutes. One plus point for the Belgian was the large time gap between his Hyundai and sixth-placed Greensmith, the leading WRC2 runner.
Rovanperä sealed his ninth stage win of the weekend. With Greensmith suffering power steering issues after losing his bumper on a landing, Solberg reduced the Briton’s WRC2 lead to 15.5 seconds.
Cabeceiras de Basto (22.01km) was the penultimate stage on this occasion. Tänak beat Loubet by 30.5 seconds, although all the Rally1 crews were conserving their tyres for the final Power Stage with the exception of a struggling Neuville. With no power, Thierry dropped another 2min 50sec and headed to the final stage 2min 43sec in front of Greensmith.
Tänak claimed his second stage win of the weekend and Solberg was fourth in his quest to catch Greensmith. The young Swede headed to the Power Stage trailing the Briton by just 8.7 seconds.
The gloves were off on the final showdown for vital WRC bonus points. With Neuville out of the equation with his turbo pipe issue, seven Rally1 drivers were aiming for the fastest time. The Belgian started the stage before the leading six WRC2 entrants and was able to confirm fifth overall before the battles started behind.
Solberg pushed to the limit to try and overhaul Greensmith. He set the fastest time in WRC2 and beat the Briton by 7.4 seconds. But it was not enough and Greensmith won by just 1.2 seconds.
Katsuta posted the Power Stage target of 6min 29.538sec and was guaranteed at least one point when Loubet ran slower by 4.054 seconds. Tänak was quicker than the Japanese by 2.285 seconds and he stayed ahead of Lappi to guarantee at least three bonus points. The Finn reached the stage finish with smoke coming from the rear of the i20.
Sordo confirmed second overall but was unable to beat Tänak and that opened the door for Rovanperä to try and wrap up the rally win in style. The Finn didn’t disappoint and stormed to a second win in Portugal with five bonus points on the Power Stage and a winning time of 6min 26.536sec.
2023 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – positions after SS19:
1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 35min 11.7sec
2. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Candido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 36min 06.4sec
3. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 36min 32.0sec
4. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 37min 15.8sec
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid 3hr 43min 34.2sec
6. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 44min 55.1sec
7. Oliver Solberg (SWE)/Elliot Edmondson (GBR) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 44min 56.3sec
8. Andreas Mikkelsen (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 45min 38.1sec
9. Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Arnaud Dunand (FRA) Citroën C3 (WRC2) 3hr 46min 44.9sec
10. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Hyundai i20 N (WRC2) 3hr 47min 28.0sec
11. Marco Bulacia (BOL)/Diego Vallejo (ESP) Škoda Fabia R5 (WRC2) 3hr 48min 02.4sec
2023 FIA World Rally Championship – positions after round 5 (unofficial):
1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 98pts
2. Ott Tänak (EST) 81pts
3. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 69pts
3. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 69pts
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 68pts, etc
2023 FIA Manufacturers’ Championship – positions after round 5 (unofficial):
1. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT 201pts
2. Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT 169pts
3. M-Sport Ford WRT 134pts
SS1 Pierre-Louis Loubet
SS2-3 Ott Tänak
SS4 Dani Sordo
SS5-19 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
SS16 Takamoto Katsuta
SS17 Kalle Rovanperä
SS18 Ott Tänak
SS19 Kalle Rovanperä