Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team’s Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen sealed a deserved victory in the 55th Vodafone Rally of Portugal in stunning fashion on Sunday.
The 21-year-old became the youngest ever winner of the event and secured his success by the winning margin of 15.2 seconds, the Finn setting the fastest time on the final Wolf Power Stage for good measure. The five additional bonus points enabled the GR Yaris driver to extend his lead in the Drivers’ Championship to 46 points.
Rovanperä won nine of the 21 special stages on his way to a fifth career WRC win and is now a strong favourite to become the youngest ever World Rally Champion. He said: “At the moment we are on a really good ride. Starting first here and being in the fight for the win like this was really nice. We had a lot of issues and tough conditions over the weekend and everyone can be happy.”
Toyota team-mate Elfyn Evans badly needed a good result after a disappointing start to the season, but the Welshman and co-driver Scott Martin were unable to deliver the sensational pace that propelled them to victory last year. Evans won six specials and led the rally for 12 stages before settling for second overall.
“We definitely needed a result,” said Evans. “Disappointed with the outcome of today. Hats off to Kalle. He’s done a great job. From my side, it’s better than it has been and we should be able to build from here.”
Takamoto Katsuta and Aaron Johnston had hoped to give Toyota a 1-2-3 finish and Japanese became embroiled in a fascinating tussle with Dani Sordo for the final place on the podium throughout the final morning.
The pair were separated by 5.7 seconds at the start of the day, although Sordo and co-driver Cándido Carrera trimmed that to just eight-tenths of a second with two stages remaining and stormed through to snatch the final podium place for the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team on the final Power Stage.
The Belgian pairing of Thierry Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe pushed hard over the final morning to try and apply pressure on Sordo and Katsuta. Despite losing his front splitter on the Felgueiras opener, Neuville finished fifth in his Hyundai, picked up three bonus points and strengthened his grip on second place in the Drivers’ Championship.
Craig Breen and Paul Nagle came under pressure on Sunday from a hard-charging Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja in the battle for sixth. The 2019 World Champion won a couple of stages and, when Breen suffered serious brake issues before the penultimate stage, the Estonian was able to snatch sixth place.
Gaining experience, staying out of trouble and reaching the finish were three of the priorities for Pierre-Louis Loubet and Vincent Landais and the M-Sport Ford Puma crew were unfazed by losing a place to Tänak. But time penalties and on-stage time losses for Breen meant the Frenchman confirmed seventh overall, with Adrien Fourmaux and Alexandre Coria finishing ninth, behind Breen, in the third of the M-Sport Fords.
Sëbastien Ogier decided to continue on the final day to carry out further testing with the hybrid Toyota GR Yaris, but punctures and an accident ensured that the eight-time World Champion’s return to action was a disappointing one and the Frenchman will have to wait until 2023 if he is to overhaul Markku Alén and secure a record-breaking sixth win in Portugal.
Teemu Suninen looked to be cruising to a WRC2 category win until he surprisingly left the road in his Hyundai near the start of the Power Stage. With the i20 beached off the track, the Finn had to watch as Frenchman Yohan Rossel powered through to secure a second successive category win in his Citroën C3 and a top 10 finish.
Rossel said: “It’s just a shame for him (Teemu). It’s a victory for me. Honestly a second place is a good result. A win now. Two wins this season and a win on gravel. This is good for the championship.”
The Škoda Fabia trio of Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Craig Ingram and Miko Marczyk rounded off the top four and three-time former event winner Armindo Araújo was the leading Portuguese finisher in 14th overall and fifth in WRC2.
Fréderic Rosati (Hyundai) and Jean-Michel Raoux (Volkswagen) became locked in a duel for the win in the new WRC2 Masters category. Rosati led by 16.9 seconds at the start of the day but Raoux began to apply the pressure and overhauled his fellow French rival on the penultimate stage and went on to seal the win by just 2.3 seconds. Laurent Battut (Hyundai) finished third.
Finland’s Sami Pajari managed his pace perfectly over the closing stages to seal a comfortable victory over fellow countryman Lauri Joona in the FIA WRC3 Junior Championship.
Estonia’s Robert Virves and Great Britain’s Jon Armstrong came home in third and fourth but Will Creighton shed a wheel on the first run through Fafe and retired from fifth place.
Sunday – as it happened
Ogier and Gus Greensmith were given the dubious honour of sweeping the gravel stages clean, courtesy of their first and second positions on the road. Evans and Rovanperä were running in 10th and 11th through the opening Felgueiras stage of 8.91km.
Overnight rain had dampened down the dust but there was a surprising amount of grip for the early cars. Tänak halved Loubet’s hold on seventh place with the fastest run of the early Rally1 cars and Sordo closed to within 1.2 seconds of Katsuta’s third place. A stage win for Rovanperä enabled the Finn to extend his lead over Evans to 8.4 seconds, while Suninen increased his WRC2 advantage over Rossel to 44.8 seconds.
A single pass through the 8.69km of the Montim stage was next on the itinerary. The damp surface meant that dust was not an issue: Tänak topped the times and moved ahead of Loubet and into seventh overall.
Sordo beat Katsuta by 0.3 seconds and whittled the Japanese’s hold on third down to just 0.9 seconds, but Evans was unable to make in-roads into Rovanperä’s lead and dropped another one-tenth of a second to the flying Finn.
A first pass through the legendary Fafe stage (11.18km) would give competitors an opportunity to see the tracks before the second run counted as the Power Stage finale. Thousands of spectators lined the side of the special and fog shrouded several sections at higher altitude by the wind farms.
Tänak pinched another 4.9 seconds off Breen and Sordo gained another one-tenth of a second on Katsuta in the battle for third place. Evans reduced Rovanperä’s outright lead to 6.6 seconds, the Finn’s cause not helped by driving in deteriorating weather conditions. Suninen preserved his comfortable WRC2 lead with a cautious drive.
The re-run of Felgueiras preceded the Power Stage and Tänak continued to apply the pressure on Breen in the battle for sixth. But the Irishman started the stage after his allotted time with a serious brake issue and relinquished his position to the Estonian. He also incurred 50 seconds of time penalties and a further on-stage time loss dropped him behind Loubet and into eighth.
Katsuta stemmed the flow of time to Sordo and increased his hold on third overall to 2.2 seconds heading into the Power Stage. Rovanperä clocked the fastest time and his overall advantage over Evans grew to nine seconds.
The leader board and the minor positions would be decided in front of the crowds at Fafe. Suninen and Rossel were the first two drivers into the special, but the Finn’s hopes of winning WRC2 were shattered when he left the road on a right-hander near the start and beached the Hyundai off the track, his mistake handing Rossel a second successive WRC2 win.
Ogier laid down the gauntlet with a target time of 6min 35.208sec but that was beaten by Tának’s run of 6min 31.287sec. Neuville edged into the lead by 0.018 seconds and then a flying Sordo went even quicker and snatched third place from a distraught Katsuta. Rovanperä saved the best until last and sealed his fifth WRC win with Power Stage success and duly extended his lead in the Drivers’ Championship.
2022 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – Positions after SS21:
1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 44min 19.2sec
2. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 44min 34.4sec
3. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Cándido Carrera (ESP) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 46min 36.5sec
4. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN)/Aaron Johnston (IRL) Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 3hr 46min 38.6sec
5. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 46min 57.0sec
6. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Hyundai i20 N Rally1 3hr 49min 04.9sec
7. Pierre-Louis Loubet (FRA)/Vincent Landais (FRA) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 50min 11.3sec
8. Craig Breen (IRL)/Paul Nagle (IRL) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 51min 22.6sec
9. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Alexandre Coria (FRA) Ford Puma Rally1 3hr 52min 28.8sec
10. Yohan Rossel (FRA)/Valentin Sarraeud (FRA) Citroën C3 (WRC2) 3hr 58min 08.1sec
SS1 Thierry Neuville
SS2-3 Elfyn Evans
SS4 Sébastien Loeb
SS5-14 Elfyn Evans
SS15-21 Kalle Rovanperä
SS1 Thierry Neuville
SS2 Elfyn Evans
SS3 Elfyn Evans
SS4 Sébastien Loeb
SS5 Sébastien Ogier
SS6 Elfyn Evans
SS7 Kalle Rovanperä
SS8 Kalle Rovanperä
SS9 Elfyn Evans
SS10 Elfyn Evans
SS11 Kalle Rovanperä
SS12 Elfyn Evans
SS13 Kalle Rovanperä
SS14 Kalle Rovanperä
SS15 Kalle Rovanperä
SS16 Joshua Mcerlean
SS17 Kalle Rovanperä
SS18 Ott Tänak
SS19 Ott Tänak
SS20 Kalle Rovanperä
SS21 Kalle Rovanperä
2022 FIA World Rally Championship for Drivers – positions after round 4 (unofficial):
1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 106pts
2. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 60pts
3. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN) 38pts
4. Ott Tänak (EST) 37pts
5. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 36pts
6. Craig Breen (IRL) 34pts
7. Sébastien Loeb (FRA) 27pts
8. Gus Greensmith (GBR) 20pts
9. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 19pts
9. Dani Sordo (ESP) 19pts, etc