Rovanpera shocked to lead WRC Rally Portugal
The World Rally Championship leader will go into Sunday’s five stages with a 5.7-second advantage after overtaking his Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans in the four rain-affected tests on Saturday afternoon.
Given the task of being the first to tackle Portugal’s difficult, dusty roads and taking on the first gravel rally of the season, expectations of leading the event were low.
However, Rovanpera benefited from issues plaguing several of his rivals during a brutal Friday before a battle ride on Saturday propelled him to the top and took the lead in the day’s penultimate stage.
Rovanpera shot clean in heavy rain to surpass rival and 2021 Rally Portugal winner Evans by 13.4 seconds to take the lead, sparking a thrilling duel for victory on Sunday.
When asked if he could believe he was in that position, he told Autosport: “No, not really – I wasn’t expecting it.
“I had a pretty comfortable feeling in the car and I don’t push myself to the limit all the time, but once I knew the conditions were good I went for it. I just tried to keep a good pace the whole time.
“Of course we struggled to get there as Elfyn had no problems. We struggled with the driving, I can be happy with that.
“We have to be well prepared for tomorrow, it’s going to be tough.”
Elfyn Evans, Scott Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Despite losing the lead held since Friday’s stage five, Evans admitted he was too cautious in the wet conditions of stage 15 but refuses to give up the win.
“Definitive [we still have chance to win]i wouldn’t say it [the gap] It’s nothing because things are so close these days, but it’s definitely something,” Evans told Autosport. “We will look forward to the fight, we have to do our best.
“That [stage 15] The painful thing was that it was raining quite heavily, especially at the beginning.
“We’ve just faced such changeable conditions and I’ve had a couple of big slides so maybe I backed off a little too much in those difficult early parts and it’s hard to know how conditions have changed or not.
“Kalle did a great job and his time showed that in the end it was thanks to his performance that he was really strong.
“It’s still tight and we can still fight tomorrow.”
Toyota boss Jari-Matti Latvala confirmed team orders will not be enforced, allowing the pair to battle for victory on Sunday, despite Rovanpera’s 59-point championship lead over Evans.
“We don’t like team orders and it’s not right for the drivers,” Latvala told Autosport.
“Some people can say championships are lost because they don’t use team orders, but when I drove at Volkswagen we never did team orders and we still won four manufacturers’ titles.”