The good, the bad and the making of a future legend

Top Performers – Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen

Kalle Rovanpera has been described as a ‘prodigy’ after beating all odds in Croatia last month and is now being compared to all-time WRC greats Sebastien Ogier and Sebastien Loeb. Rovanpera is currently working at this level.

The 21-year-old Finn has five WRC wins to his name and has won five of the last 10 WRC events, dating back to his first win in Estonia last year. It’s a frightening statistic. Only Hyundai duo Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak from the current season have achieved more career wins.

Ahead of Portugal, Rovanpera met two crucial requirements to become world champions. These achieved victories on tarmac, gravel and snow, winning from the first start on the road, which he did on Croatia’s tarmac in April.

That left one final element that Loeb and Ogier turned into an art form – winning a gravel rally by opening up the road. In Portugal, that goal seemed unlikely, especially as Ogier and Loeb were among the 12 Rally1 cars, with the pair having far more favorable road holding.

However, Rovanpera is so at one with his riding and the GR Yaris that he surprised himself and his team to emerge victorious in Portugal. Admittedly some of his rivals suffered from punctures and mechanical issues from extremely tough stages, Rovanpera had to beat Toyota teammate and long-time leader Elfyn Evans, which was no easy feat there.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport images

Evans put on his best performance of the season so far and last year’s Portugal winner seemed in a good potion to claim two wins until Rovanpera pulled off a master stroke when it rained on the second leg of the rally’s longest stage. Here Rovanpera was able to turn a deficit of 9.9 seconds, which had previously broken down to 18.4 seconds, into a lead of 4.0 seconds. From then on he was in control and claimed his third win in a row.

There’s no other way to describe Rovanpera’s performance as “flawless,” which earned him his third top performer award of the season. Equipped with a 46-point lead over Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, the lead presents an incredibly tough task for the rest of the field to reel in. As of this writing, it is becoming increasingly likely that the youngest-ever world champion will be crowned this year.

His team boss Jari-Matti Latvala was quick to elicit praise.

“Him again [Kalle] surprised us because we didn’t expect him to win as he was the first car on the road but he did it,” Latvala told Motorsport.com.

“Elfyn rode really well, fighting for the win and putting pressure on Kalle, but this time Kalle found more power.

“It [Kalle’s victory in Portugal] reminds me of Sebastien Ogier’s dominance in 2013 when he drove the Volkswagen for the first time [when he won his first title].

“He was pressuring all the other riders and Kalle has now done the same and it’s very difficult when a rider is in what I call the flow zone. It’s very difficult for the others to beat him and that has he found.”

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Honorable Mentions: Dani Sordo (Hyundai)/Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota)

While Evans deserves great credit for his drive to second place, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo and Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta receive the honorable mentions this week.

Portugal was Sordo’s first start in a Rally1 car and although he struggled to cope with the i20 N that caused him to lose third place, his experience and cunning came to the fore on Sunday. The Spaniard spun and passed Katsuta on the final stage to grab a deserved podium – his sixth career podium in Portugal.

While his driving made the talk, his excellent sportsmanship was on display in front of the thousands of fans packed at the FAFE finals as he rushed over to hug a gutted Katsuta sitting dejectedly in the cockpit of his GR Yaris at the finish.

Although heartbroken to lose a podium in a Toyota 1-2-3 lockout, it was by far Katsuta’s best drive since he finished second in the Safari Rally almost 12 months ago. The Japanese rider appears to have regained his confidence with his only blemish being a half spin on Friday afternoon.

Winner Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Winner Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Team of the week: Toyota Gazoo Racing

It was almost a perfect weekend for Toyota apart from Sebastien Ogier’s unusually early retirement from the rally and Takamoto Katsuta failing to secure a 1-2-3 podium finish.

Toyota again stressed the importance of a reliable car as only one of their four cars encountered problems. Ogier reported a hybrid issue on Saturday that caused the eight-time world champion to be distracted before crashing out of Stage 11 after returning from Friday’s double damage.

Whereas Hyundai and M-Sport Ford suffered quite a bit of reliability woes, highlighted by driveshaft failure at Neuville and brake and turbocharger issues at M-Sport.

The GR Yaris has now clearly established itself as the beating car of the new Rally1 car generation, with Toyota holding a comfortable 59-point lead.

Sebastien Loeb, Isabelle Galmiche, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1, Accident

Sebastien Loeb, Isabelle Galmiche, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1, Accident

Photo by: Sebastien Loeb

moment of heartbreak

There were several stories about what could have been at Rally Portugal and perhaps none was more frustrating than what happened to Neuville.

The Belgian, second overall and just 7.0 seconds behind leader Evans, was really in the hunt for the first win of the season when Hyundai’s poor reliability record made an early appearance.

Neuville suffered drive shaft failure on a stretch of road, which he and his co-driver Martijn Wydaeghe had to repair. The pair then had to limp through Friday’s final two stages, with their hopes of victory dashed. Neuville recovered to fifth place at the end of the rally.

The last time both Ogier and Loeb retired from a rally on the same day was at Rally Australia in 2011. It’s fair to say that such a situation is a collector’s item.

But in Portugal, the two greatest drivers of all time made rare driving errors in a situation considered unthinkable in rallying circles.

Loeb slid into a wall on Stage 5 and ripped the right rear suspension off his Ford Puma just moments after winning Stage 4 to take the absolute rally lead from Evans. The retirement quickly followed as Ogier climbed to third overall after conquering the stage on which his rival fell.

Ogier’s hopes of a sixth career in Portugal were dashed when he suffered a puncture during the next few tests and retired from the rally after opting to carry only a spare tyre.

The pair returned to action on Saturday, but a turbocharger issue knocked Loeb out of the rally entirely, while Ogier was deflected from his shot that resulted in a rare crash on Stage 11.

The champions gathered to celebrate the 50th season of the <a class=World Rally Championship.” loading=”lazy”/>

The champions gathered to celebrate the 50th season of the World Rally Championship.

50th anniversary celebrations

Gather a group of the world’s best rally drivers in a room spanning the last 50 years and you’re set for an evening to remember.

That is exactly what happened last weekend during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the World Rally Championship at Rally Portugal. WRC went to considerable lengths to celebrate its milestone and organized a special gala dinner for 250 guests including Motorsport.com on the Wednesday night before the rally. You couldn’t help but encounter legendary drivers, co-drivers and team principals and even a priceless villain, Colin McRae, who won a 1999 Ford Focus that won the Safari Rally.

In today’s fast-paced world, it can be easy to focus on the present and the future and forget about the past. So it was refreshing to spend a nostalgic evening, remembering the history of the WRC and its great stories retold by its many legends, all together in the same room.

With Walter Röhrl (1980,1982), Ari Vatanen (1981), Miki Biasion (1988,1989), Carlos Sainz (1990, 1992), Marcus was a guest list with 28 of the 50 drivers’ titles represented so far, Grönholm (2000, 2002), Petter Solberg (2003), Sebastien Loeb (2004-2012), Ott Tanak (2019) and Sebastien Ogier (2013-2018, 2020-2021).

Walter Röhrl tackles Fafe in the Audi Quattro

Walter Röhrl tackles Fafe in the Audi Quattro

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

While the gala dinner was the focus of the celebrations, the throngs of fans who flocked to Portugal could quench their thirst for nostalgia thanks to demonstration drives of the fleet of historic WRC machines over the rally’s spectator-friendly Super Special Stages.

Arguably the most fever-inducing sight was Rohrl’s reunion in an Audi Quattro for a run on the legendary Fafe stage.

“It was fantastic even though the road was very bumpy. I had to take care of my tires but it was a lot of fun.”

top tweets

M-Sport’s Craig Breen went from rally driver to car dealer when he was jumped by two-time world champion Marcus Gronholm.

It seems no one is safe around Hyundai’s Dani Sordo, as WRC All Live reporter Julian Porter found out.

Porter and the WRC All Live team had to improvise as they welcomed Grönholm to join them to help with commentary.

hot shots

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Vincent Thuillier / Hyundai Motorsport

Sebastien Loeb, Isabelle Galmiche, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Sebastien Loeb, Isabelle Galmiche, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: Toyota Racing

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Pierre-Louis Loubet, Vincent Landais, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: M-Sport

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