Kalle Rovanpera snatched the Rally Portugal lead from Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans on Saturday’s penultimate special stage to set up a thrilling finale on Sunday.
The 21-year-old Finn trailed Evans by almost 20s after the morning’s loop of three special stages, before crushing the Welshman when the stages were repeated in the afternoon. The FIA World Rally Championship points leader will take a 5.7s advantage into Sunday’s closing day in pursuit of his third straight rally win.
Evans had led round four of the 2022 WRC — the first gravel rally of the season — for virtually the entire distance in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, but Rovanpera went quickest in Saturday afternoon’s opening two tests to trim the deficit to 9.9s.
Then rain in the second pass of the Amarante stage – at 23.14 miles, the longest of the rally — handed Rovanpera a vital advantage. The downpour became increasingly heavy, and with Evans starting the test four minutes after his teammate, he conceded almost 14s and the lead.
“I’m sure we could have done a bit more in places,” reflected Evans after the day’s closing stage, a short, damp, cobble-covered superspecial on the oceanside streets of Porto. “The rain didn’t help us in the long one, but Kalle has driven well. We have to keep the pressure on tomorrow and see what’s possible.”
Earlier, Evans had the best of a morning which was heavily influenced by tire choice. He and Rovanpera favored Pirelli’s soft-compound Scorpion rubber, which offered more grip on the thick-dust surface of the Cabreira Mountain roads than the harder option chosen by others.
Takamoto Katsuta completed a Toyota Gazoo Racing lockout of the top three after overhauling Hyundai’s Dani Sordo for third during the morning loop. The Japanese driver bested the Spaniard’s i20 N Rally1 on all but one stage to carry a 5.7s advantage into the overnight halt, but almost two minutes off the lead.
Both must keep an eye on a charging Thierry Neuville in the second of the Hyundais. The Belgian climbed two places to fifth during the morning, but was almost a minute behind teammate Sordo at the midday service halt. A blistering drive in Amarante before the rain took hold enabled him to close to within 30.1s.
M-Sport Ford teammates Pierre-Louis Loubet and Craig Breen lost time on hard tires during the morning. Loubet’s choice was compounded by a spin in his Puma Rally1, and he fell behind the Irishman when jammed windshield wipers hindered his visibility in the rain.
Setup improvements to the dampers and chassis at the midday service encouraged Breen, who gapped Loubet by 14.3s to hold a relatively defendable sixth at day’s end. But with a 94.5s deficit to Neuville, further progress for the Ford duo seems unlikely.
Gus Greensmith retired his Puma after hitting a bank and breaking the steering. His exit allowed Hyundai’s Ott Tanak into eighth, with M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux in ninth. Fourmaux had dropped behind Tanak after changing a rear-left puncture in the morning.
The two Sebastiens, WRC greats Loeb and Ogier, restarted after retiring on Friday’s first leg due to a crash and multiple punctures, respectively. Loeb exited for a second time when his Puma stopped during the morning with a turbo problem. He will not restart on Sunday. Ogier went off the road in the same stage and later retired after a fire caused by brake fluid leaking onto the hot exhaust.
In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Teemu Suninen’s Hyundai i20 N leads Yohan Rossel’s Citroen C3 by 30.5s. Finn Suninen had led the Frenchman by 17.1s overnight, but methodically increased his lead during the day. A Skoda Fabia Evo-equipped quartet of Kajetan Kajetanowicz, Chris Ingram, Miko Marczyk and Mexico’s Benito Guerra complete the top six.
Incredibly, on the leg-ending Porto superspecial, the drying conditions allowed the leading WRC2 crews to post quicker times than the headlining Rally1 cars, with Nikolay Gryazin (Skoda) edging Marczyk and Rossel for the fastest overall time.
Sunday’s final leg is all about the extraordinary Fafe special stage, with its huge jump before the finish and its massive crowds. Five tests clustered around the town of Fafe total 30.37 miles, with a second run through the iconic, 6.95-mile Fafe test as the rally-closing, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.
WRC Rally Portugal, leading positions after Day Two, SS16
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3h13m46.7s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +5.7s
3 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m50.1s
4 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m55.8s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +2m25.9s
6 Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +4m00.4s
7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +4m14.7s
8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +4m40.9s
9 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1) +7m04.3s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai i20 N – WRC2 leader) +10m08.5s
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