Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen delivered a polished afternoon performance to overhaul their team-mates, Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin, and take a 5.7-second lead into the final night halt at the 55th Vodafone Rally of Portugal on Saturday.
The two Toyota GR Yaris drivers were class of the field for much of a drama-filled day where wrong tyre choice, punctures and sporadic rain showers threatened to derail several drivers’ challenges.
Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta and Irish co-driver Aaron Johnston managed to overhaul Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and Candido Carrera to snatch third and give Toyota a 1-2-3 with five short and tricky gravel stages remaining on Sunday.
“A problem free day and we can be happy,” said Rovanperä modestly.
For sure, we could have done a bit more in places,” admitted Evans. “That’s how it is. Kalle has driven really well. We have to keep the pressure on and see what is possible.”
Katsuta added: We did a pretty okay job today. We were under the pressure. Dani is an experienced driver and very fast. We were able to manage the car and the tyres.”
Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe benefitted from an excellent tyre choice on the second pass through the long Amarante stage in inclement weather conditions and stormed into contention for fourth place. The Belgian duo now trail team-mate Sordo by 30.1 seconds, however, after the Spaniard’s stunning time in the last stage of the day in Porto.
Punctures and dust issues hampered Craig Breen and Paul Nagle in the leading M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1, but the Irishman managed to overhaul Pierre-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais to hold sixth on the last of the gravel stages, their cause helped when the windscreen wipers failed on the Frenchman’s Puma.
Estonia’s Ott Tänak is still looking for his first stage win of the weekend and the premature demise of both Sëbastien Ogier and Sëbastien Loeb meant that the 2019 World Champion and co-driver Martin Järveoja were carrying out road-cleaning duties for much of the day. The i20 N Rally1 driver holds eighth.
Adrien Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria rounded off the Rally1 standings in ninth in the third of the surviving Fords. A puncture and resultant suspension damage side lined Gus Greensmith after SS13. Loeb had fallen by the wayside during the morning when his Puma lost power and an attempt to reset the system failed and he later retired.
Ogier’s return to the WRC for the first time since the Monte-Carlo Rally didn’t go according to plan and the eight-time World Champion spun his Yaris, which came to rest with the rear hanging off the track. He continued with massive time losses before retiring soon afterwards.
Tenth-placed Teemu Suninen was coming under pressure from Yohan Rossel in the WRC2 category until a fresh set of tyres enabled the Finn to pull away again. He reached the night halt with a 30.5-second cushion over the Frenchman. Pole Kajetan Kajetanowicz held third.
Fréderic Rosati (Hyundai) had built up a comfortable cushion over Laurent Battut (Hyundai) and Jean-Michel Raoux (Volkswagen) in the new WRC2 Masters section heading to the last super special stage of the day.
Finland’s Sami Pajari was able to extend his lead over fellow countryman Lauri Joona in the Junior WRC3 category heading to the Porto street stage. Estonia’s Robert Virves lost a chunk of time in Amarante but maintained third from Great Britain’s Jon Armstrong.
Saturday – as it happened
Andreas Mikkelsen was the first major retirement from the upper reaches of the leader board. The WRC2-leading Norwegian’s Škoda Fabia evo had been misfiring badly on Friday evening and Toksport took the decision to retire the car, handing the WRC2 lead to Suninen.
Both Loeb and Ogier restarted and were given road-sweeping duties through the 21.57km of Vieira do Minho in the Cabreira mountains. Loeb complained of a lack of grip with a not-so-ideal tyre choice, as Ogier beat the nine-time champion by 15.8 seconds and admitted he was using the day as a test session for Toyota.
Loubet survived a spin and Greensmith slipped from fifth to eighth after driving on a flat tyre. Rovanperä and Evans were the class of the field and the stage win went to the Welshman, who duly extended his lead over the Finn to 14.9 seconds. Suninen increased his WRC2 advantage over Rossel to 21.7 seconds.
A short liaison took crews to the start of a first pass through Cabeceiras de Basto. Loeb lost power, tried to reset the Ford Puma and continued in limp mode, the car failing to respond and the Frenchman dropped a further three minutes before retiring after the special.
Ogier started the stage several minutes later than scheduled and then spun out of contention after 10.8km. The car came to rest with the rear axle hanging off the track in the trees. Loubet also survived a half-spin, as Neuville tried to preserve his soft tyres for the Amarante stage with the threat of imminent rain showers. He moved ahead of Loubet, however.
Katsuta closed to within 1.7 seconds of Sordo’s hold on third, as Rovanperä went quickest and trimmed Evans’s lead to 10.2 seconds. Rossel was fastest in WRC2 and moved to within 16.9 seconds of Suninen.
With Loeb and Ogier out of contention, road-sweeping duties fell to Tänak in Amarante, the longest stage of the rally at 37.24km. Fourmaux stopped to change a punctured rear tyre after 20.5km and his three-minute time loss meant that Breen was seriously affected in the hanging dust behind.
The choice of hard tyres cost several drivers valuable seconds and Rovanperä and Evans resumed their duel for the lead as Katsuta squeezed through to snatch third overall from Sordo by 3.5 seconds. Evans won the special and headed to service with a 18.4-second lead, while Rossel reduced Suninen’s grip on WRC2 to 9.2 seconds.
Tänak opened the road at the start of the second loop and beat his morning’s run through Vieira do Minho by 4.6 seconds. Light rain began to fall after three or four cars had entered the special and Greensmith clipped a banking and punctured a rear-right tyre.
Breen was the early pace-setter until Katsuta went quicker and pulled another six-tenths of a second clear of Sordo in the battle for third. Rovanperä and Evans were again the class of the field: the Finn managed to snatch the stage win and reduce the Welshman’s advantage to 16.5 seconds. Suninen extended his WRC2 lead to 18 seconds.
Breen continued to push Loubet and challenge for sixth place but the Frenchman edged another 0.6 seconds ahead in the fine drizzle that shrouded the re-run of Cabeceiras de Basto. Greensmith tried to make emergency repairs to his Puma after the incident in SS13, but the suspension was damaged and the Briton retired for the day before the stage.
Katsuta continued to pull away from Sordo and a flying Rovanperä took another nibble into Evans’s lead with the quickest time and headed to Amarante trailing by just 9.9 seconds.
Tänak set the target of 25min 03.2sec, the Estonian beating his morning run by 3.7 seconds on the cleaning track surface. Breen collected a puncture close to the finish and overhauled Loubet, who drove in the drizzle without windscreen wipers. A flying Neuville beat the benchmark time by 21 seconds and closed in on Sordo to reduce the Spaniard’s grip on fourth to 15.2 seconds.
The leading quartet were running with hard compound tyres, as the rain intensified, and no-one could catch stage winner Neuville. But a determined run by Rovanperä was rewarded with the rally lead for the first time. He headed to the cobbles of the Porto-Foz street stage with a four-second lead.
The stage near the mouth of the Douro river attracted a large crowd, despite initial wet conditions. The top cars slithered over the cobbles and overnight leader Rovanperä topped the Rally1 times with a run of 3min 28.7sec, on a stage dominated by the WRC2 cars. A stunning run by Sordo trimmed Katsuta’s grasp on the final podium place to 5.9 seconds.
Five short stages are on offer on Sunday morning, culminating in a second pass through the historic Fafe stage that will also act as the Power Stage finale (first car- 12.18hrs).
Before that, crews will carry out two runs through the Felgueiras stage, a single run through Montim and a warm-up run in Fafe.
2022 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – Positions after SS16:
1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 13min 46.7sec
2. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 13min 52.4sec
3. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN)/Aaron Johnston (IRL) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 15min 36.8sec
4. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Candido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 15min 42.5sec
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 16min 12.6sec
6. Craig Breen (IRL)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 17min 47.1sec
7. Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)/Vincent Landais (FRA) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 18min 01.4sec
8. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 18min 27.6sec
9. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Alexandre Coria (FRA) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 20min 51.0sec
10. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Hyundai i20 N (WRC2) 3hr 23min 55.2sec
11. Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Valentin Sarraeud (FRA) Citroën C3 (WRC2) 3hr 24min 25.7sec