The first of seven gravel World Rally Championship rallies in a row certainly delivered.
For some it will be a rally to remember – potentially one where their championship really kicked off – but for others it will be one they’re already trying hard to forget.
DirtFish writers Rob Hansford and Luke Barry have considered all the factors and determined the winners and losers from Rally of Portugal 2023:
Where to start?
The first rally win in seven months? The command he showed behind the wheel? Or the first somewhat healthy championship lead of this incredibly tight season so far?
No matter which way you look at it, Kalle Rovanperä was a winner this weekend.
His title defense had been something of a slow burner with no victories and three fourth places finishes on the last three rallies.
But the Toyota driver sent a massive statement to his rivals in Portugal. On the form he showed this weekend, he’s still very much the one to beat.
Can this weekend be seen as anything other than a great weekend for Dani Sordo? He was on the pace right from the off and never really looked back.
Sordo’s only weak point was that he was unable to cope with the blistering speed of Kalle Rovanperä on Saturday – but then again, nobody was able to match the reigning champion’s pace. So this was a job well done.
Considering he’s on a part-time program, not getting the same seat time as others, it has to be acknowledged that Sordo doesn’t face an easy task to finish in the top three when he does compete, even if he does benefit from a good road position on the opening day.
Questions have been swirling recently about his long term prospects at Hyundai, but this performance has just proven that he still has what it takes in the right conditions.
Featuring Gus Greensmith as a winner never really came into the frame over the first two days of Rally of Portugal. He was doing a fine job in second, but he wasn’t exactly challenging Oliver Solberg for the victory – not helped by a Friday puncture – ending Saturday nearly a minute off the lead.
But then Solberg’s penalty happened and it changed the game completely.
All of a sudden Greensmith was thrust into the top spot. It was his rally to lose, and it nearly happened.
Having lost his power-steering on Sunday morning, all of a sudden it looked like Solberg might be able to rein him back in and snatch victory from his grasp. But credit where it’s due, Greensmith dug deep and managed to extract enough pace from his Fabia RS Rally2 to hold on.
And that’s what makes Greensmith a winner for us. It didn’t get served up on a plate all that easily in the end – remember he had water issues on Saturday afternoon too – and he made the most of it.
And in the process he’s secured some vital points that could prove pivotal in the championship battle later on in the season.
After the high of Croatia Rally, Rally of Portugal quickly became one to forget for Elfyn Evans.
All morning on Friday he was complaining about a lack of confidence in his GR Yaris Rally1. It just wasn’t working in the way he wanted it to.
Running first on the road was always going to hamper Evans, but by SS6 he was already over 40 seconds off the lead. And then on the following test he went off, and went off hard.
Disappearing a long way into the trees, the Yaris was wrecked. So much so that Evans was unable to restart the rally.
All of a sudden his position at the top championship is gone, and it’s definitely an opportunity missed. He can’t afford to make mistakes if he’s going to truly fight for the title, and this was a major setback.
Another title contender to run into strife in Portugal.
Neuville was incredibly unfortunate to lose several minutes with his power problem on Sunday, but even had that not happened the Belgian would likely have qualified for the losers section here.
Neuville’s struggle to truly get on top of things on a Friday is now a fairly famous theme, but this weekend it continued into Saturday as well. Something was missing from the i20 N Rally1 and he wasn’t able to grab it by the horns.
So much so that Portugal is the first rally Neuville’s hasn’t won a stage on since New Zealand last year.
The silver lining is he’ll start behind both Elfyn Evans and Sébastien Ogier in Sardinia, but after his mistake in Croatia he could’ve done with a big points haul here. And had the perfect opportunity in front of him to do just that.
It was all going so well for Oliver Solberg. He was in complete control of WRC2, on course to put himself back at the top of the championship, and then he decided to do a donut.
Believing that putting on a show for fans was allowed, he pitched his Škoda into a series of 360s between the flying finish and the stop line of the Lousada superspecial stage. But the call to the stewards room quickly came.
In the end, Solberg was given a one-minute penalty for breaching the supplementary regulations, costing him his lead.
And this will hurt. His fightback was mega and came oh so close to reclaiming the win, but he had it nailed on before. Solberg can’t afford to give points away like this if he’s going to win the WRC2 title.
Gunning for a maiden World Rally Championship podium finish, Pierre-Louis Loubet set himself up for a fall somewhat in Portugal.
With such a bold target, anything less would have to be deemed a failure in some part.
To his credit, he was flying on the opening morning – leading after the first stage and well in the mix for the podium despite an exhaust fire at the end of SS3.
But Loubet was undone by a narrow section on Saturday, where he clipped the inside and broke his steering – forcing him out for the day.
A big price to pay for a small mistake, for sure. But all these things add up. Had he stayed in the running, the M-Sport driver would’ve been on for at least a top five finish, potentially even more.
Instead, he heads to Sardinia with confidence a little more dented and behind a WRC2 driver who’s missed two events this season in the championship.