Rovanpera puts Portugal WRC lead down to being “clever”

Kalle Rovanpera leads the Portugal WRC event

Kalle Rovanpera leads the Portugal WRC event

Kalle Rovanpera says a “clever drive” has enabled him to lead after the Friday leg of Rally de Portugal, the fifth round of the World Rally Championship.

As a number of Rovanpera’s Rally1 rivals either experienced mechanical trouble or fell by the wayside, the reigning world champion played the long game to end the day 10.8s clear of Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo.

In the opening exchanges, the Finn was largely a bystander as understeer contributed to excessive tyre wear before set-up changes applied on the road section to the third test transformed his Toyota GR Yaris.

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The unforgiving nature of Portugal’s stages – particularly on the afternoon pass as rocks were an ever-present danger – meant car and tyre preservation was key, and the 22-year-old had the measure of his rivals in this regard.

After Ott Tanak lost top spot and dropped 50 seconds to a puncture on the first stage after lunchtime service, Sordo inherited the position. However, the Spaniard’s reign was short-lived as Rovanpera usurped him by the end of the next run.

The battle remained nip and tuck for the next two speed tests before consecutive overshoots by Sordo due to limited traction on SS7 and SS8 left the gap at almost 11 seconds.

“It has been a really good day for us,” said Rovanpera, who starts day two as the last of the Rally1 contingent meaning more favourable road conditions.

“This morning was not perfect, but we changed a few things on the car to give ourselves a bit more precision on the fast roads, and after this the feeling got better and the afternoon went well.

“I think the stages were even rougher than expected; it has clearly been very dry here in the lead up to the rally so there were a lot of stones and rough places. But we managed it quite well, I think we did a clever drive.

“It’s nice to be leading after starting second on the road today and to be in the fight for the win. Tomorrow our starting place should be much better and hopefully we can keep it up,” he added.

In stark contrast to Rovanpera’s situation, team-mate Takamoto Katsuta was an early retirement with a faulty alternator, while Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin managed to walk away unharmed following a high-speed accident on the penultimate stage.

Team Principal Jari-Matti Latvala admitted Friday had been “a day of mixed feeling for us,” adding: “The big positive has been Kalle’s performance. I could sense that his motivation is really high to get a victory.

“He was maybe not completely happy to begin with this morning, but he was able to tweak the car setup, find the confidence and then he was flying for the rest of the day.”

Stan Sport’s coverage of the event resumes this afternoon at 16:30 AEST.

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