This page contains archived information and may not display perfectly

WRC – Rovanperä ahead after tough opening day in Portugal


2023 Vodafone Rally de Portugal – Friday evening

Kalle Rovanperä mastered a tough opening leg on Vodafone Rally de Portugal to head Dani Sordo at the overnight halt by 10.8 seconds.

A thrilling contest in the morning became a matter of stage survival in the afternoon as heat, dust and punishing rock-strewn roads had a big impact on round five of the 2023 FIA World Rally Championship.

While several of his rivals faltered, Rovanperä won three of the eight special stages in a Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid to head Sordo by 10.7sec after 121.25 competitive kilometres during which three different drivers led.

Rovanperä was plagued by excessive understeer through the opening two stages but set-up adjustments later in the morning transformed his car.

The Finn surpassed Sordo, who inherited the top spot when Ott Tänak’s Ford Puma Rally1 Hybrid sustained wheel damage on Lousã 2, and extended his advantage further when the Spaniard overshot a junction in the penultimate stage in his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid.

"It has been a really good day," said Rovanperä. "Lots of cleaning, but still we did a steady day. We were fast but we also took care of the car and the tyres."

Sordo’s Hyundai team-mate Thierry Neuville is third overnight, 15.2s behind. The Belgian reclaimed the final podium spot in the Figueira da Foz street stage, leapfrogging colleague Esapekka Lappi and M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Pierre-Louis Loubet in the process. Just 1.3s blanket the three drivers overnight, with Loubet edging Lappi on the day’s deciding stage to take fourth overall by 0.3s.

Fourth was well-deserved for Loubet. After winning the opener, the Frenchman then verged on retirement when his car caught fire on the stop line of Arganil 1. He and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul were able to continue after extinguishing the flames, later tracing the cause to their Puma’s exhaust.

“The car started to have fire, one kilometre before the end of the stage,” Loubet said. “We don’t have luck this year, it’s crazy.”

Tänak recovered to end the day sixth overall, while the remaining positions in the top 10 are dominated by FIA WRC2 cars. Oliver Solberg heads fellow Toksport Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 driver Gus Greensmith, with Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2) and Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport Škoda) rounding out the top 10.

Championship leader Elfyn Evans retired after crashing his Toyota in Mortágua. His team-mate Takamoto Katsuta stopped earlier in the day with alternator failure. 

Saturday’s second leg is the rally’s longest at 148.68 kilometres and includes three repeated stages – Vieira do Minho, Amarante and Felgueiras – either side of service in Matosinhos. No stage is longer than the 37.24-kilomtetre Amarante test, while the Lousada rallycross circuit stage moves from Friday to close Saturday’s schedule. Vieira do Minho is up first from 07h35 local time.