Kalle Rovanpera is a winner again in the World Rally Championship thanks to a statement victory in Portugal, his second on the bounce in the country.
Rovanpera had been outside the podium places since January's Monte Carlo Rally and hadn't won in the WRC since his Rally New Zealand triumph last October made him the sport's youngest world champion aged 22 years and one day.
But he was largely unstoppable on Rally of Portugal, particularly once “some quite small things” made his Toyota Yaris Rally1's handling “more precise” following set-up changes during Friday's midday service halt and gave Rovanpera the “good feeling” he'd been missing.
He completed leg one 10.8s in front, built that margin to 57.5s during a ruthless Saturday charge when five of the seven stage wins were his, then maintained his comfortable margin through Sunday's four stages, eventually winning by 54.7s and adding the Power Stage victory rub salt into his rivals' wounds.
With five rounds run, Rovanpera is 17 points ahead in the title chase. Although he'll now run first on the road when the championship resumes in Sardinia next month, based on his Portuguese push, it's hard not to tip the Finn for a second consecutive world crown.
“When our good feeling and then we pushed a bit more,” said Rovanpera. “I felt that I was driving the maximum of our car's performance and grip. Like everybody said, it was really slippery [on Saturday] morning and the grip was changing a lot. It was not really easy. I just pushed quite hard.”
Apart from an intercom glitch on Saturday's penultimate stage, little troubled the Yaris driver, who headed Hyundai pair Dani Sordo and Esapekka Lappi at the Sunday afternoon finish on the Matosinhos seafront close to the city of Porto.
“This win has been a long time coming,” Rovanpera said. “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.
“It's nice to win here in Portugal again and to finally be back on the top. A big thanks to Jonne and to the team, who have been pushing forwards all the time.
“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. It was not a perfect stage, but it was enough, so I'm happy. Sardinia will be more difficult but we will try to continue like this.”
Hyundai had been set for second, third and fourth but a broken turbocharger slowed Thierry Neuville and gave Sordo a relatively comfortable run to his seventh career podium in Portugal with Lappi making it back-to-back third-place finishes.
Ott Tanak inherited fourth from the struggling Neuville, who started the day in third, 11.1s behind Sordo, but the M-Sport Ford driver was far from satisfied at the finish.
“Very demanding weekend obviously,” he said. “It was challenging. We have some great weaknesses at the moment that we need to get sorted. Now the engineers need to get it sorted. It's up to them now.”
Gus Greensmith beat his fellow Toksport Skoda driver Oliver Solberg to WRC2 honours by 1.2s after Solberg was hit with a one-minute penalty overnight following his illegal donuts at the finish of the Saturday's superspecial. Greensmith would have been further ahead but for a powersteering issue.
Former champion Andreas Mikkelsen came back from a puncture on day one to finish third in WRC2.