WRC Portugal: The Good, The Bad and the emergence of a future legend

Published: 17, Jun 2022

Kalle Rovanpera was described as a “miracle kid” without pulling off an versus the odds win in Croatia last month, and now he\'s stuff likened to the WRC’s all-time greats Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb. That is the level Rovanpera is operating at currently.

At only 21-years-old the Finn has five WRC wins to his name and has won five of the last 10 WRC events, stretching when to his maiden win in Estonia last year. It’s a frightening statistic. Only Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak of the current yield have accrued increasingly career wins. 

PLUS: How Rovanpera overcame rallying royalty in Portugal

Before Portugal, Rovanpera ticked off two crucial requirements in a quest to wilt a world champion; those stuff scoring wins on tarmac, gravel and snow, and winning from starting first on the road, which he achieved on Croatia’s tile in April.

That left one final element that has been turned into an art form by Loeb and Ogier - winning a gravel rally from opening the road. In Portugal this objective seemed unlikely expressly given Ogier and Loeb were among the 12 Rally1 car field, with the pair self-aggrandizing a far increasingly favourable road position.

However, Rovanpera is so at one with his driving and the GR Yaris, he surprised himself and his team to sally victorious in Portugal. Granted, several of his rivals suffered from punctures and mechanical issues from extremely punishing stages, Rovanpera did have to see off Toyota team-mate and long time leader Elfyn Evans, no midpoint feat there.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Evans produced his weightier showing of the season to stage and last year’s Portugal winner looked in a good potion to score back-to-back wins, until Rovanpera pulled of a masterstroke when rain fell in the second pass of the rally’s longest stage. Here, Rovanpera was worldly-wise to transform a 9.9s deficit, that had older squandered out to 18.4s, into a 4.0s lead. From there, he was in tenancy taking a third subsequent win.

There is no other way to describe Rovanpera’s performance than \'flawless\', earning him a third top performer ribbon of the season. Equipped with a 46 point lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, the lead poses an incredibly nonflexible task for the rest of the field to reel him in. At this stage it\'s increasingly likely that the youngest overly world champion will be crowned this year.

His team superabound Jari-Matti Latvala was quick to dig out the plaudits.

“Once then he [Kalle] has surprised us considering we didn’t expect him to win, as he was first car on the road, but he did it,” Latvala told Autosport.

“Elfyn was driving really well fighting for the victory and putting the pressure on Kalle, but this time Kalle found increasingly performance.

\"It [Kalle’s victory in Portugal] reminds me of the dominance of Sebastien Ogier when in the 2013 when he was driving the Volkswagen for the first time [when he won his first title].

“He was putting all the other drivers under pressure and Kalle has now washed-up the same and it very difficult when a suburbanite is in what I undeniability the spritz zone. It is very difficult for the others to write-up him and he has found that.”

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Honourable mentions: Dani Sordo (Hyundai)/Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota)

While Evans deserves huge credit for his momentum to second, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta receive the honourable mentions this week.

Portugal represented Sordo’s first start in a Rally1 car and despite struggling to get to grips with the i20 N that saw him loose grip of third place, his wits and guile came to the forefront on the Sunday. The Spaniard reeled in and overhauled Katsuta on the final stage to snatch a deserved podium - his sixth career rostrum in Portugal.

The feels ❤️@DaniSordo to @TakamotoKatsuta : "You have to be proud of you. Don't be sad, you will do many podiums my friend"@officialWRC_JP | #WRC | #WRCLive | #RallydePortugal pic.twitter.com/SnfQKTqFOr

— World Rally Championship (@OfficialWRC) May 22, 2022 \"> 

While his driving did the talking, his spanking-new sportsmanship was displayed in front of the thousands of fans packed into the Fafe finale, when he rushed wideness to embrace a gutted Katsuta, who was glum sat in the cockpit of his GR Yaris at the finish.

Although heartbroken to lose a podium a Toyota 1-2-3 lockout, this was by far Katsuta’s weightier momentum since finishing second at the Safari Rally scrutinizingly 12 months ago. The Japanese suburbanite appears to have got his conviction back, with his only vandalize a half spin during Friday afternoon.

Winners Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Team of the Week: Toyota Gazoo Racing

It was very tropical to stuff a perfect weekend for Toyota, noninclusion Sebastien Ogier’s uncharacteristic early exit from the rally and Takamoto Katsuta missing out on securing a 1-2-3 podium lock-out.

Toyota once then outlined the importance of a reliable car as only one of its four-car squadron encountered any issues. Ogier reported a hybrid issue on Saturday which led to the eight-time world champion stuff distracted surpassing crashing out of Stage 11 pursuit his return from a double puncture on Friday.

Whereas Hyundai and M-Sport Ford suffered a pearly share of heartache on the reliability front highlighted by a driveshaft failure for Neuville, and restriction and turbo charger issues for M-Sport.

The GR Yaris has now unmistakably established itself as the car to write-up from the new Rally1 generation of vehicles, with Toyota holding a commanding 59-point lead.

Sébastien Loeb, Isabelle Galmiche, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1, crash

Photo by: Sébastien Loeb

Moment of Heartbreak

Rally Portugal produced several ‘what could have been’ stories and perhaps none were increasingly frustrating than what happened to Neuville.

Sitting second overall and only 7.0s roaming of leader Evans, the Belgian was well and truly in the venery for a first victory of the season when Hyundai’s poor reliability record made an untimely appearance.

Neuville suffered a driveshaft failure on a road section that required a repair undertaken by himself and co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe. The pair then had to limp through the final two stages of Friday with their hopes of victory destroyed. Neuville hauled himself when up to fifth by the end of the rally.