It’s always a pleasure to come to Portugal.
The atmosphere, and challenge of the stages, make it one of the highlights of the World Rally Championship calendar.
But who got it right, and who didn’t, last weekend?
Colin Clark brings us his driver ratings from round five of the 2023 season:
Kalle Rovanperä 10/10
Rally of Portugal result: 1st
Seven months since Rovanperä’s last win in the championship and boy did he bounce back in style here.
Friday was impressive, but Saturday was almost otherworldly. Kalle’s ability to turn adversity into opportunity is so counterintuitive that you have to actually take a reflective moment or two to make sense of how he does it.
The opening stage on Saturday was a case in point. Four corners in and Rovanperä knew the conditions were more slippery than expected, so what does he do? Take an extra margin to be on the safe side and make sure he stays on the road?
Absolutely not, because that’s what everyone else was doing – Rovanperä went into full attack mode and took nearly 13 seconds out of the next best driver.
We’ve seen it before from him in the wet and when thigngs gets filthy muddy – attack mode is activated.
Only the great champions have ever had this ability and Rovanperä is very much shaping up to become one of the truly great champions.
Oh, and this wasn’t, by Rovanperä’s own admission, his best ever performance as others have suggested, and as such I’d normally give him a nine. But he gets an extra point for his glorious blond perm that I’m absolutely certain very few other 22-year-olds could wear as well as Kalle does.
Rally of Portugal result: DNF
I’m not actually going to give Elfyn a score – and that doesn’t mean I’m giving him zero out of ten.
This was quite probably one of the biggest accidents of Elfyn’s career and coming so soon after the tragic events in Croatia, I’m sure Elfyn is more than just a little shaken up by it.
I’m just going to wish Elfyn and Scott a speedy recovery and look forward to seeing them back in Sardinia.
Takamoto Katsuta 5/10
Rally of Portugal result: 33rd
A really solid, if unspectacular, week for Taka-san.
An alternator issue very early on Friday compromised any chance Taka had of a decent finish here and the consequence of that, running first on the road for two days, was a far from ideal situation.
Still, Taka kept it tidy and contributed manufacturer points for both his overall position and his fourth place in the powerstage.
Thierry Neuville 4/10
Rally of Portugal result: 5th
Really not a good weekend at all from Thierry. He should have been so much better on Friday but having told us his test went well and he was feeling well prepared, once again he really struggled to get to grips with the car early doors.
Thierry is quite clearly the number one priority for Hyundai and as such I’m pretty sure it doesn’t expect him to be the slowest of the factory cars. Two bad results in a row puts real pressure on Neuville and nothing short of a win in Sardinia is needed to re-establish his championship credentials.
Dani Sordo 10/10
Rally of Portugl result: 2nd
The best of the Hyundais by quite some margin, Dani never looked stressed, troubled or even remotely bothered all weekend. Sordo has shown once again that when the conditions are to his liking he is still very much right up there as one of the very best drivers in the world.
Sordo is enjoying his rallying now as much as he ever has and he’s an absolute delight to watch out on the stages and see around the service park.
His tribute to Craig, both the helmet design and his words to us in the final media zone, were so heartfelt and moving that many were brought to tears.
Dani Sordo you are one class act.
Esapekka Lappi 7/10
Rally of Portugal result: 3rd
Job well done once again for Lappi with yet another podium finish and good manufacturer points for the team. Not the kind of Friday pace we saw in México but Esapekka has shown once again that he understands the intricacies of his car as well as anyone and is capable of wrangling decent finishes from a machine he still isn’t entirely comfortable with.
Estonia and Finland are targeted as potential wins for Esapekka and the way things are progressing, you’d have to say that is entirely possible.
Consistency is key to building performance, pace and competitiveness and Esapekka is absolutely delivering that this season.
Ott Tänak 4/10
Rally of Portugal result: 4th
By his own admission, his worst performance in nearly seven years. I’d say he’s being a little hard on himself with that, but it was far from vintage Tänak in Portugal.
Clearly he’s still not happy with the setup and performance of the Puma, but while team continues to work tirelessly to deliver the package the Estonian demands Ott has to make sure that he delivers 110% every time he sits in the car.
That’s almost impossible so we’ll forgive him a slightly off weekend.
The single most important thing is that he once again, somehow managed to deliver a decent haul of points that very much keeps his championship challenge alive.
Pierre-Louis Loubet 3/10
Rally of Portugal result: 32nd
Not the easiest of years so far for Loubet but look behind the seemingly disappointing results and you’ll see real signs of progress. His pace has stepped up a level and the key now is to convert that pace into consistent finishes.
He paid a big price for a very marginal error on Saturday, but that’s what happens when you’re chasing that stage-winning pace.
At this level, you can’t get away with even the tiniest of errors and that’s a lesson Loubet will have learned form Portugal I’m sure.