Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team’s Kalle Rovanperä is back on top of the FIA World Rally Championship after a dominant drive to win the Rally de Portugal for the second year in succession at the weekend.
The victory is the first of the season for reigning world champions Rovanperä (above) and Jonne Halttunen. They have moved to the head of the standings by 17 points thanks to having also set the fastest time the rally-ending Fafe Power Stage – repeating the maximum score they achieved on the same event in 2022. It is also the fourth time in a row that TGR-WRT have won in Portugal, and the team’s fourth victory from five rounds in 2023.
It was a very bad event for his Toyota team-mate, Welshman Elfyn Evans, who had a puncture on the rough stages of the first day and then crashed, setting fire to his car which put him out of contention.
Rovanperä built his result on a strong performance on Friday’s opening day while running second in the road order on the loose gravel stages. He led by 10.8 seconds at the end of the day, and his exceptional speed on Saturday morning allowed him to move more thanr 50s clear.
On Sunday he recorded his ninth stage win of the weekend in the first pass (above) over the famous fan-favourite Fafe test, before making it 10 when he returned there for the Power Stage – setting the quickest time by 0.717s and sealing his rally victory by 54.7s.
Takamoto Katsuta and co-driver Aaron Johnston set the fourth-fastest time in the Power Stage to bank additional points for the manufacturers’ championship, which the team continue to lead by 32 points. Katsuta had to stop on Friday morning with a technical issue but could restart on Saturday and took a stage win of his own in Sunday’s first stage.
Rovanperä seized control of the rally when Tänak suffered wheel damage on Friday afternoon, establishing a slender 10.7-second lead by the end of the opening leg.
Unstoppable on Saturday, the Toyota GR Yaris man unleashed a masterful display of five stage wins and widened the gap to a commanding 57.5sec before effortlessly negotiating Sunday’s four-stage finale 54.7sec clear of second-placed Dani Sordo.
“It has been too long coming, but finally we are back,” Rovanperä said. “I have to say a big thank you to Jonne (Halttunen, co-driver) and the team. They have been pushing all the time and going forward.”
Esapekka Lappi made it two i20 N cars inside the top three, scoring his second podium finish in as many rallies. His result helped Hyundai to stay within 32 points of championship-leading manufacturer Toyota Gazoo Racing.
Thierry Neuville began the day in third but a broken turbocharger left his Hyundai severely down on power. Time poured away as he limped through the closing stages, allowing M-Sport Ford Puma man Ott Tänak to claim fourth overall while he frustratingly settled for fifth.
There was an exhilarating conclusion to the WRC2 battle as Gus Greensmith claimed the spoils by just 1.2sec from Škoda Fabia rival Oliver Solberg. The latter had led by 35.4sec overnight before being lumbered with a one-minute time penalty.
Andreas Mikkelsen, Yohan Rossel and Teemu Suninen – also contesting WRC2 – completed the leaderboard.