The FIA World Rally Championship has a new provisional points leader after Kalle Rovanperä swept to his second consecutive Vodafone Rally de Portugal victory and his ninth in the WRC.
Toyota’s reigning world champion headed home Hyundai pair Dani Sordo and Esapekka Lappi following a dominant performance alongside his co-driver Jonne Halttunen.
Rovanperä, who had not stood on top of the podium in WRC since his title-winning run to victory on Rally New Zealand last season, now holds a 17-point advantage over Ott Tänak after five rounds.
Finn Rovanperä seized control of the rally when Tänak suffered wheel damage on Friday afternoon, establishing a slender 10.7s lead by the end of the opening leg.
Unstoppable on Saturday, the Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid driver unleashed a masterful display of five stage wins and widened the gap to a commanding 57.5s before effortlessly negotiating Sunday’s four-stage final leg 54.7s 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 Hyundai20 N Rally1 Hybrids 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 WRT.
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 the Belgian frustratingly settled for fifth.
There was an exhilarating conclusion to the FIA WRC2 contest as Gus Greensmith claimed top honours by just 1.2s from Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 rival and Toksport team-mate Oliver Solberg. The latter had led by 35.4s overnight before being lumbered with a one-minute time penalty.
Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport Škoda), Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2) and Teemu Suninen (Hyundai Motorsport N Hyundai i20 N Rally2) – also contesting WRC2 – completed the top 10.
Marco Bulacia won the FIA WRC2 Challenger category in 11th overall, Roope Korhonen was victorious in FIA WRC3 with Alexander Villaneuva triumphing in FIA WRC Masters.
WRC crews will now face more hot weather and challenging stages as the world championship moves to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia for the 20th Rally Italia Sardegna in Olbia from June 1-4. – www.fia.com