What we learned from Rally of Portugal 2023

Luke Barry assesses all the main talking points from the first European gravel event of the season

Kalle Rovanperä,  Jonne Halttunen

The run is over. Kalle Rovanperä became the first driver to win back-to-back Rally of Portugals since Sébastien Ogier in 2013 and ’14.

Before that, seven different drivers had won the previous seven editions.

Rovanperä’s victory has far more relevance than just this statistical quirk though, as he moves to the top of the championship for the first time this year.

However there were plenty of more talking points beyond this statement drive from the world champion.

Here’s what we learned from Rally of Portugal 2023:

Rovanperä’s still the fastest


In a way this is a statement that we already knew was true. Aside from Sébastien Ogier, he was the driver with the most stage wins this season prior to Portugal.

But such statistics must always be taken with a grain of salt as they don’t always fully depict the true picture.

In Portugal though, Kalle Rovanperä made his point.

Nailing his pre-event test this time, the world champion’s confidence was back and it showed. His drive on Friday, to lead overnight despite starting second on the road, was extraordinary but what followed on Saturday was truly spectacular.

That time on Vieira do Minho, where he smashed everyone to the tune of 12.8 seconds, will be the stuff of legend. He woke up that morning and decided to drive some rally.

Portugal was Rovanperä at his dominant best. Able to win stages at ease and at times just for fun.

The title defense had been a slow burner up until now, but now the fire is fully lit. Rovanperä’s rivals will take nothing but fear from this performance.

Evans’ title bid just got harder

Toyota Portugal

Elfyn Evans has said it himself – consistency is his strong suit. Stringing together a run of good points finishes is how he managed to challenge Ogier for both the 2020 and ’21 titles.

And it’s what he had been doing this year too. Prior to Portugal, Evans was the only driver – along with team-mate Rovanperä – to finish in the top five on all of the rounds.

Portugal was always going to be a case of damage limitation for Evans, who was forced to sweep the stages clear on the first day virtue of his championship lead.

But a high-speed accident on Friday’s penultimate stage undid all of that hard work in an instant. Evans did heavy damage not just to his Toyota but to his championship situation, too.

Trailing Rovanperä now by 12 points, Evans must get himself back on the front foot quickly if his title challenge is to go the distance.

Realistically, there can be no more mistakes like last weekend.

Tänak needs more performance from his Puma

Ott Tänak

Portugal had a real feeling of 2022 about it for M-Sport Ford.

Fast to begin with – Pierre-Louis Loubet led after stage one and Ott Tänak after stage two – but then it all unravelled.

While Loubet was the architect of his own downfall on Saturday morning (although it must be said he paid a big price for a small mistake), Tänak was hamstrung by a puncture on Friday and then struggled to recover any ground for the rest of the weekend.

Rougher, second pass conditions specifically appeared to cause Tänak great discomfort – and he made a few unsavory comparisons between his Puma and first a wooden horse and then a wild horse over the weekend.

We know that Tänak is still struggling to feel at home in the Puma Rally1 – that’s a narrative that’s been unfolding ever since before the season even began. But what Portugal highlighted is he clearly feels the car needs to be faster too.

There’s plenty then for the guys and girls in Dovenby Hall to do to meet Tänak’s demands.

Right now he’s still in a solid championship position, 17 off new leader Rovanperä but 13 up on the tied Ogier and Evans, but Tänak’s odds will lengthen quite quickly if more can’t be unlocked from this partnership.

Particularly if Rovanperä produces more performances like the one he did in Portugal.

Solberg & Greensmith the WRC2 favorites


A lot was expected in WRC2 last week, and it certainly delivered. But perhaps not in the way expected with that epic cat and mouse chase on the powerstage between Oliver Solberg and Gus Greensmith.

Solberg, who has proved to be the fastest driver in the Rally2 class so far this season, looked to have the event under control until Saturday evening when a donut for the fans at the Lousada superspecial earned him a one-minute penalty as it was a breach of a regulation.

That gave Greensmith, who had punctured on Friday and battled hard just to stay in the contest on Saturday afternoon with his Škoda losing water, an advantage, only for faulty power-steering to tie a hand behind his back and leave him exposed to the Solberg attack.

Eventually, he won by just 1.2 seconds.

Fourmaux showed some great things in Portugal with strong pace, but is realistically out of the title battle with compromised results earlier in the year. Yohan Rossel meanwhile still leads the championship (65 points compared to Greensmith’s 62 and Solberg’s 61 after three events each) but his Citroën C3 Rally2 was less convincing on gravel than it had been on asphalt three weeks earlier.

So this year’s title race feels like it’s going to be a battle between Toksport pair Solberg and Greensmith. Which is no bad thing based on what they served up in Portugal.

Sordo can still fight on merit


Unquestionably, Portugal was the best we’ve seen yet of Dani Sordo in a Rally1 car.

Grabbing the lead of an event for the first time since 2021 on the first afternoon, Sordo was the quickest of three Hyundais for practically the entire weekend and delivered a hugely-deserved second place.

Sordo’s known for his reliability in delivering podiums, but it’s been a while since he grabbed one based primarily on the ability of his right foot rather than his ability to think and manage his pace.

It was a timely reminder to everyone, after a difficult start to the season where Sordo struggled to just seventh on the Monte and then fifth in México, that on his day he is still one of the quickest drivers in the world.

Hyundai team principal Cyril Abiteboul had asked to see a bit more speed from Sordo after México. He certainly got his wish.

Words:Luke Barry