Why Rovanperä’s off wasn’t Portugal’s biggest story

Phones were ablaze with chatter for reasons other than Rovanperä's crash on Saturday morning

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Saturday morning. It’s just after seven and as the cars depart service for the stages, some of the World Rally Championship’s heavier hitters head inside the Exhibition Park of Northern Portugal.

It’s time to talk. Yes, there has been a lot of talking done, but Saturday was about a more focused chat. The WRC Promoter had something to say. A plan to share. On hearing about this plan a week out from Portugal, I’d sought an invite from Munich.

Nope. Not this time. Stakeholders only. Fair enough. Just good to know the right conversations are really starting to go through the gears. We’re 29 days out from the WRC’s immediate future being confirmed. And just 256 days away from those rules being implemented on the startline of the opening stage of the 2025 season.

Not even a brilliantly frenetic opening day in Portugal was able to divert conversation as Friday slid into Saturday. What would the promoter be putting before the stakeholders? Was there a sniff of revolution in the air?

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Ultimately, no. But a rapid evolution works too. As the meeting ended, calls were being fired off in all directions. And the intel started to flow. America’s being pushed. The promoter is working harder than ever – and it’s always been committed to this cause – to get the WRC stateside for the first time since 1988.

That’s great. We’re a global media organization, but we’re very firmly rooted in the beautiful Pacific Northwest – and 38 years will be just about long enough between WRC rounds. So, 2026 is the plan. But we sort of knew that already.

What else? With the live product fixed through All Live, it’s time to deliver an actual live product – like putting fans’ feet firmly back on the ground in the service park and at the side of the stage. And once they’ve got them back where they belong, they’re going to keep them better informed with a hike in social content.

Opinion coming out of the meeting? Like the promoter reported, it was generally positive. There’s an understanding the WRC needs to pull together. Regardless of what comes out of June 11, it’s time to fast-track global understanding of how awesome rallying is.

Kalle’s off.

Excuse me?

Rovanperä. He’s crashed.


Solberg as well. Same place, give or take a couple of corners.

Meeting done. Talking about the meeting done. DirtFish did what it does. The #69 Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 was tracked and found. Pins were pinned, locations sent. Wagons roll and the team was on the road in search of a different Saturday morning story.

This was an odd one. After a day of trading tenths all day on Friday, the world champion had got out of bed and destroyed the opposition on the weekend opener. Coming out of Saturday’s first stage, he looked completely cool. No moments, no stress. Just pace. Pure pace.

It was the same in Montim, until he piled into a right-hander over a crest. Chucking another half-turn at it wasn’t going to help, the trees were waiting. They took him.

The Finn was mystified. Kind of.

He told DirtFish: “We didn’t have any moments before that. We talked with Jonne [Halttunen, co-driver] that when everything feels good, and the car feels good, the pace like what we did in the morning doesn’t feel too risky.

“Before that, nothing, just one braking I missed.”

We’re not in entirely unchartered territory here. Finland last year and the then 22-year-old was very much in his comfort zone, talking DirtFish through the merits of Tupla chocolate bars between taking chunks out of his rivals. Next minute he and Jonne Halttunen were end-over-ending their way through the woods.

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Kalle Rovanperä starred in a music video recently. He wasn't expecting to be posing for photos that look like an pseudo-album cover once he'd gotten back behind the wheel.

Starting the stage at 0931 on Saturday, two minutes later than the overall leader, Oliver Solberg was first on the scene. The first to find the Finns waving them down, Rovanperä still with the slightly quizzical look of somebody trying to fathom the last 60-odd seconds of his earthly existence. His mind was taken off his own plight by the sound of sliding Škoda meeting the bank with a bump ahead of more metal being bent as the Fabia rolled.

For the second rally in a row, Ogier was perfectly placed. For the second rally in a row… that sounds harsh on the eight-time champion. Whether or not Rovanperä was pushing too hard or not, his was the Yaris leaning against a tree just after half-nine.

Ogier’s ruthless precision and speed won him Croatia three Sundays before. It was the same story in Matosinhos last weekend. Good on him. And good on Ott Tänak as well. The Estonian feels he could have won, had it not been for a puncture. Who knows? Ultimately Ogier had the edge across the whole event, but it’s great to see the Hyundai driver starting to look and feel more comfortable with the i20 N Rally1 – and stacking some big Sunday points into a championship challenge which is genuinely coming to life now.

Friday’s absurdly close fight, Saturday morning’s drama and an overarching masterclass from a driver still very much at the top of his game combined to offer the promoter plenty to talk about.