Rovanperä defies the odds to take third WRC win in a row

There was no stopping Kalle Rovanperä on SS21 as he won Rally Portugal


Kalle Rovanperä scored a stunning third World Rally Championship win in a row on Rally Portugal, beating his team-mate Elfyn Evans and taking a maximum score with powerstage victory.

Starting first on the road for a gravel rally was expected to provide a big challenge to the championship leader and after Friday’s first stage, he was down in 10th.

But over the course of the rally’s first day he calmly ascended to second, then blitzed Evans on Saturday afternoon to take a lead that he extended across Sunday’s stages with four stage wins from five.

That included the fastest time on the Fafe powerstage, giving him a second perfect score of 30 points after doing the same thing in Croatia last month.


Evans simply had no answer to Rovanperä’s pace on Sunday, only clawing back a handful of seconds on the first pass of Fafe but otherwise unable to keep up.

He’d started the final stage nine seconds adrift of Rovanperä, only to lose another 6.1s by going fifth-fastest on the powerstage for a single bonus point.

“We definitely needed a result, that’s for sure. Obviously disappointed with the outcome of today. Hats off to Kalle, he’s done a great job,” Evans surmised.

A long-running battle for the final podium place went right down to the wire, with Dani Sordo stealing third place away from Toyota junior driver Takamoto Katsuta on the Fafe powerstage.


Sordo began the stage with 2.2s to make up to the GR Yaris ahead and flew on Fafe, beating his much younger rival by 4.3s to get the job done at the very last moment.

Despite taking the final podium spot in dramatic circumstances, Sordo hadn’t felt he’d earned it.

“It’s not a real third position,” he said. “We were not so quick on the stages all weekend, so I’m a little bit disappointed. If we can finish third, fourth, it’s nice but I want to be on the pace all the time.

Katsuta, meanwhile, was understandably gutted to miss out on a second career WRC podium, having gotten his first on the Safari Rally last year.


“Big congats to Dani. I’m so sorry for the team,” said a downbeat Katsuta. “I tried but obviously not enough. I’m just not good enough. I need to improve more. I have no words to be honest.”

Hyundai looked like they’d have at least one driver in the lead fight early on Friday, with Thierry Neuville in among the Toyotas early on before a broke driveshaft sent him way down the order.

A strong recovery to fifth was wrapped up on Sunday with a straighforward drive, though hopes of winning the powerstage were bleak as a missing front splitter on his i20 N Rally1 cost him front grip dearly.

“I gave it everything. But I had no aerodynamic, so I had no front. I had a couple of moments where I lost the car on the front,” said Neuville.


“We can congratulate Toyota for their strong result this weekend and their reliability.”

Ott Tänak was a man on a mission on Sunday morning, starting eighth but with two M-Sports firmly in his sights. Stage wins on Montim and Fafe, combined with technical woes for Breen, meant he’d already achieved his objective of sixth place before the final powerstage began.

A crash on Friday afternoon had taken Sébastien Loeb, M-Sport’s main contender for victory, out of the running, leaving its four remaining cars to compete for the midfield positions.

Of its quartet it was Pierre-Louis Loubet that led home the army of Ford Pumas, picking up seventh place after something of a rollercoaster rally.


While his pace was much improved on his troubled two-year stint in a customer Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC in recent years, he still suffered two spins on Saturday and then lost even more time when his wipers failed on Amarante.

Come Sunday he was left to slide about on used softs, having gambled on using his fresh sets on Saturday in the hope heavy rain would fall. That dropped him plenty of time, falling behind Tänak on pace, but still took sixth overall.

Craig Breen finished a troubled eighth, losing several minutes on the final morning with a brake problem aboard his Ford Puma.

A puncture earlier in the rally had set him back and though he’d recovered to sixth place at one point, it didn’t last.


Tänak was attempting to put him under pressure early on Sunday morning but as it transpired, he didn’t need to, as Breen’s brakes began to fail before the penultimate stage.

That dropped him behind both Tänak and team-mate Adrien Fourmaux, who finished the rally in a quiet seventh place, with Breen displeased that an issue identified at Saturday evening service hadn’t been fully remedied before heading out on Sunday.

“Seems the problem with one of the calipers or something,” said Breen. “Just disappointed that something that popped its head up yesterday evening, we didn’t think it was going to be an issue today. Disappointed really.”

He wasn’t the only Puma driver struggling with the brakes, as Loubet reported a similar issue.


“We had an issue with the brake at the end like Craig, but not as much as he had,” Loubet explained. “But it’s part of the game. We finished and we can be happy with what we’ve done. Thanks to the team because the car was great.”

Sébastien Ogier could only rue what might have been, finishing outside of the top 50 overall after retiring twice in two days.

Two punctures in two stages on Friday when carrying only a single spare had ended his rally for a first time before a crash on Saturday morning halted his Yaris for a second time.

He could only rack up the seventh-fastest time on the powerstage, reporting a hybrid issue. It was little consolation after a disappointing rally.


“A difficult weekend for us. At least we can get this experience learning the car a bit more on gravel and use it for the next one,” said Ogier, already looking forward to his next outing in the GR Yaris.

Teemu Suninen threw away a near-certain WRC2 victory on the very last stage of the rally, sliding his Hyundai i20 N Rally2 off the road and becoming stuck early on the powerstage.

That left reigning WRC3 champion Yohan Rossel, who had arrived at the final stage a minute down on Suninen, to take a second WRC2 win in a row aboard his Citroën C3 Rally2 in unexpected circumstances.

“It’s just a shame for him. Sorry,” said Rossel, knowing that he’d been lucky to pick up a victory.

SS21 Results

  1. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 6m28.2s
  2. Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +2.0s
  3. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +3.0s
  4. Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.0s
  5. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +6.1s
  6. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +6.3s
  7. Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota) +6.9s
  8. Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +12.3s
  9. Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +13.9s
  10. Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +31.2s

Leading Positions after SS21

  1. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 3h44m19.2s
  2. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +15.2s
  3. Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +2m17.3s
  4. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +2m19.4s
  5. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2m37.8s
  6. Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +4m45.7s
  7. Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +5m52.1s
  8. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +7m03.4s
  9. Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +8m09.6s
  10. Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (Citroën) +13m48.9s