Kalle Rovanpera has spoken of his relief at ending a winless drought in the World Rally Championship that had stretched back to October's Rally New Zealand.
Rovanpera drove to victory on last weekend's Rally de Portugal in emphatic style to climb to the top of the points' table for the first time this season after five rounds on asphalt, snow, and gravel.
The 22-year-old laid the groundwork on Saturday when he obliterated the chasing pack by recording scratch times on five of the day's six special stages to carry a 57.5s buffer heading into the deciding Sunday leg.
Although his final margin was trimmed slightly by runner-up Dani Sordo, it still stood at 54.7s courtesy of another quickest time on yesterday's opening speed test and the rally-ending Power Stage which bagged the Finn an extra five bonus points.
That meant they repeated the maximum score they achieved on the same event 12 months ago and extended the Japanese manufacturer's run of successive wins in Portugal to four. It is also the squad's fourth victory from five rounds in 2023.
“It has been too long coming, but finally we are back,” Rovanpera said at the finish. “I have to say a big thank you to Jonne [Halttunen, co-driver] and the team. They have been pushing all the time and going forward. It is nice to win here in Portugal again and to finally be back on the top.”
Success looked as though it could be on the cards for Rovanpera after the charge of early leader Pierre-Louis Loubet withered following a fire scare caused by the exhaust on his Puma Rally1's exhaust, and Ott Tanak was slowed by a puncture that dropped him 50s.
With a commanding lead built-up by lunchtime on Saturday, Rovanpera's attention turned to adopting a more risk averse strategy by avoiding stones in the road and working his way around any deep ruts.
“There have been some difficult weekends but all the time I knew that when we can have a clean weekend and a good drive, we are right in the game,” said the defending World Rally Champion.
“This weekend we had a good feeling with the car and we were able to push hard. In the Power Stage I wanted to take as many points as we could because I knew we would likely have to open the road on the next event anyway,” he continued.
“It was not a perfect stage but it was enough, so I am happy. Sardinia will be more difficult but we will definitely try to continue like this.”