Four rounds into this year’s World Rally Championship, and what a season we have on our hands!
Victory for Elfyn Evans on Rally Portugal moves him to within two points of championship leader Sébastien Ogier, while Toyota has moved clear of Hyundai in the manufacturers’ race thanks to a superb 1-3 finish last week.
Portugal was a thoroughly enjoyable rally – but not for everyone. Here are Colin Clark’s driver ratings from the WRC’s first gravel action of 2021.
Toyota Gazoo Racing
Elfyn Evans 9/10
Rally Portugal result: 1st
Super impressive performance from Evans here in Portugal, firmly laying to rest the final day choker hoodoo and confirming his status as Ogier’s number one challenger for the title this year. What is impressing most about the young Welshman is his ability to score results, and wins, when he’s clearly not firing on all cylinders. When everything clicks for Elfyn, he could be untouchable
Sebastien Ogier 7.5/10
Rally Portugal result: 3rd
Maybe I’m being a little mean considering that Ogier came into the rally leading the championship and leaves the rally still holding onto that lead. His performance on Friday opening the road was typically Ogier like in its efficiency and its tenacity. However, he looked a little bit off form on Saturday and struggled to shake off the dogged resilience of Katsuta who traded stage times with the seven-time champ. Ogier would have taken the 18 points if you’d offered them to him at the start of the week but will need to find something a little extra if he’s to repeat this points haul from first on the road in Sardinia
Kalle Rovanperä 5/10
Rally Portugal result: 22nd
A strangely off key weekend for the Finnish boy wonder. The pressure was on having failed to make it through the opening stage in Croatia and maybe it got to him a little here. Or maybe we’re just expecting too much from a driver barely out of his debut year in WRC machinery? Whatever the reason, we found ourselves looking a lot further down the timesheets than we’ve become used to in search of the Rovanperä name. This was definitely a rally to put down to experience for Kalle and he’ll look to bounce back with a confidence boosting run in Sardinia.
Takamoto Katsuta 8/10
Rally Portugal result: 4th
A career best performance from the rapidly improving Japanese ace and a massive affirmation of his abilities when battling tooth and nail with Ogier on Saturday. Context is everything and when you consider that Taka-san’s last two gravel outing resulted in monumental offs in Estonia and Sardinia then this result is truly remarkable. That first podium is surely now not that far away.
Dani Sordo 8/10
Rally Portugal result: 2nd
Once again the eminently talented and likeable Spaniard gets in the car and delivers the goods for his team. Dealt admirably with the massive pressure and responsibility he inherited when both his team-mates dropped out of the points before close of play Saturday. Didn’t have enough in reserve to push Evans for the win on Sunday but maybe that was to be expected from a part-time driver. Sordo rarely lets the the boss down and is the WRC’s consummate team player.
Ott Tänak 8/10
Rally Portugal result: 21st
Sensational pace and form on Saturday gave us glimpses of the dominant Tänak his opponents came to fear back in his Toyota days. Eighteen months of frustration with the Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC would appear to be coming to an end and Tänak can take many positives from what the history books will record as a disappointing event. The fastest driver in arguably the fastest car this week deserved more. The cause of Tänak’s demise on Saturday afternoon is still open to conjecture but for once that old driver’s favorite “I didn’t hit anything -honestly!” would appear to hold some water.
Thierry Neuville 5/10
Rally Portugal result: 36th
For a man who was enjoying the most consistent start to his championship challenge, a strangely schoolboy-esque error cost him dearly. Mistakes when pushing hard and fighting in the stages are forgivable but to make a wrong pace-note on the recce, well that’s a lot more difficult to forgive. For the first six stages of the rally, Neuville looked imperious, coping remarkably with the challenges of running second on the road and managing tire shredding conditions. And then bang, it’s all over and the Belgian bullet’s back playing championship catch-up.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 1/10
Rally Portugal result: DNF
I really do hate to come down hard on young drivers but I can’t find any justification whatsoever for giving Loubet more than one out of 10. The young Frenchman has a glorious opportunity to develop his skills and experience at the sport’s highest level this year but will learn the grand total of diddly squat unless he first learns to keep the car on the road.
Gus Greensmith 8/10
Rally Portugal result: 5th
I’ve been following Gus since I saw him in the junior section of the British Rally Championship in 2016. Two things that have always been blindingly obvious to me in those years – he has the ability to be quick and he’s bloody brave. But that really isn’t enough to make a world class rally driver and what’s been lacking over the years is rally craft. It would appear that the introduction of Chris Patterson to the co-driver’s seat has shown Greensmith exactly that and in two rallies we have seen more progress from the young Englishman than arguably we’ve seen in the past two years. Genuinely competitive pace hints at stage wins and increasingly competitive performamances as the season progresses.
Adrein Fourmaux 8/10
Rally Portugal result: 6th
What do I know? Myself and DirtFish senior staff writer David Evans debated endlessly before the event Fourmaux’s ability to repeat his enormously impressive debut in a WRC car in Croatia. We both concluded that no, it probably wasn’t possible. Well post-event we’re debating if this first outing on gravel in the WRC car was in fact more impressive that Croatia! And you know what, we both think it was. Fourmaux has been the revelation of the season so far and the only downside is that we won’t be seeing him in Sardinia in the WRC car.