WRC Review: Rovanperä criticized – “It’s rare to say anything negative about Kalle, but…”

The fifth round of the World Rally Championship took place this past weekend in Portugal. RallyJournal.com's journalists offer ratings for the main class drivers.
Kalle Rovanperä
Kalle Rovanperä. Photo by: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
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The gravel rally in Portugal concluded with Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier claiming victory, but it was Hyundai’s Ott Tänak who amassed the most points over the weekend.

RallyJournal.com journalists Toni Heinonen, Aki Hietavala, and Ville Hirvonen reviewed each top-class driver’s performance, grading them on a scale where 10 is the maximum and 4 the lowest score.

Toni Heinonen

Sebastien Ogier 9

The French veteran once again performed commendably at the wheel of a Toyota. Ogier’s patient and logical approach came with a factory guarantee. Two consecutive wins, but why just a nine? On Sunday, Ogier did not push his hardest, opting instead to secure the overall win, which currently rewards no points. Hyundai understands the importance of Sunday for team points, whereas Toyota – and Ogier – tend to falter on the final day.

Ott Tänak 9+

The Estonian driver was truly in the fight for victory for the first time this season. By Saturday, it looked like Tänak might even win, but a slow puncture altered the plot. Nonetheless, it was Tänak’s best performance of the season, plus he scored excellent points on Sunday. Tänak was the weekend’s moral victor – especially if supremacy is measured by points gathered for oneself and the team.

Thierry Neuville 9+

Little was expected from Neuville, but the Belgian managed at least commendably from the road-sweeping position. Leading the championship, Neuville had stated before the race that he would focus solely on Elfyn Evans. In that regard, he executed flawlessly: accumulating a total of 24 points (only two fewer than Tänak), while Evans gathered only six. Hats off to him.

Adrien Fourmaux 8

Expectations for Fourmaux have risen as the season progressed, and he did not disappoint this time either. He demonstrated once again that last season’s relegation has made him a more prepared rally driver. The Frenchman couldn’t yet challenge the leaders, but another fault-free weekend yielded a respectable result. If this trajectory continues, Fourmaux could become a serious championship contender.

Dani Sordo 8+

The Spanish veteran once again proved why he deserves his (partial) spot in Hyundai’s third car. Although the WRC event was only his first of the season, he clocked three impressive fastest times on the first proper day of driving. Sordo’s teammate Andreas Mikkelsen hasn’t come close to matching this performance in the two rallies he’s driven. Long speculated to be nearing retirement, if performance is the measure, Mikkelsen’s career end might be closer.

Elfyn Evans 6

The Welshman seemed lost all weekend. He was unable to respond in any way to his main rival Neuville’s pace, even though the Belgian was the road-sweeper on Friday. While a puncture and a lost pace note book didn’t help, his performance was lacking overall. When fighting for the championship, there’s little room for such significant dips in form.

Takamoto Katsuta 5½

Katsuta started the competition according to his plans and was in contention for the top spots. But then he had to park his Toyota on the side of the road when the suspension failed. Perhaps the retirement isn’t entirely Katsuta’s fault, but no other driver broke their car in the same spot, so the rating remains harshly low.

Kalle Rovanperä 5

Three competitions, one win, and two retirements. After the first stage on Saturday morning, it looked like Rovanperä was going to take off. This image shattered instantly on the very next stage when the Yaris flipped on its side against a tree. After the crash, it was legitimate to ask if part-time driving was affecting Rovanperä’s performance level. He insists it doesn’t. However, particularly in terms of error-proneness, Rovanperä would do well to return to being a full-season driver as quickly as possible.

Gregoire Munster 4 ½

The Luxembourger made an appearance in Portugal. And visited a ditch. That’s about it. Nothing more to say.

Aki Hietavala

Sebastien Ogier 9½

Half a point off perfection because he didn’t achieve the full points on “Super Sunday”. Yet again, a remarkable performance from the veteran. Ogier has competed in three rallies this season, securing two victories and one second place. His momentum seems unstoppable.

Ott Tänak 9

Tänak was finally back to his top form, contending for the rally win. A tyre puncture cost him a bit of time. His resurgence is a positive sign for the WRC. While teammate Neuville leads, Tänak has firmly announced his return to the title fight.

Thierry Neuville 9

Driving from the first starting position on gravel to finish third is an admirable achievement. Neuville also nearly maxed out his points on Sunday, strengthening his lead in the championship by 24 points over Toyota’s Elfyn Evans.

Adrien Fourmaux 8

The Frenchman continues to invigorate his campaign in the WRC. Once again, he secured impressive points and completed a faultless race. His pace wasn’t quite enough for the top spots, but that’s not yet expected of Fourmaux.

Dani Sordo 8

Based on time differences and standings, Sordo might have deserved a lower score. However, on Friday, he demonstrated that complaints about lack of seat time and rhythm are unfounded. Sordo was quick, but once he found himself behind his teammate Neuville in fourth place, he no longer had the clearance to attack. He worked selflessly for the team once again.

Elfyn Evans 6

The Welshman’s pace was never close to the leaders. Neuville showed that even from the first road position in Portugal, one can perform well. The car’s setups were off, but even so, Evans’ performance was particularly tame. He couldn’t be blamed for the issues on Sunday, but overall, his race was lackluster.

Kalle Rovanperä 5

There was speed, but the results completely fell short. This marks another relatively simple mistake by Rovanperä this season, which we are not accustomed to. Rovanperä himself assured that his focus has not waned despite his part-time status. For the team, Rovanperä’s retirements have been costly.

Takamoto Katsuta 5

It just doesn’t seem to be happening for him. Katsuta promised an attack, and he delivered. On Friday, the Japanese driver was even in the lead, but then Saturday brought a retirement. A sadly familiar pattern for Katsuta.

Gregoire Munster 4

The Luxembourger is still learning in the WRC. Well, at some point, he should also finish a race. Yet another foolish retirement for the Ford driver. His pace was also still from a different planet compared to other Rally1 drivers. Even though he is a novice, it looks embarrassing when even WRC2 drivers beat him.

Ville Hirvonen

Sebastien Ogier 10

A flawless performance from the French master. Once again, he demonstrated his greatness, driving tactically and wisely without wearing out his tires on Saturday’s long stages. He enjoyed a tight fight and victoriously claimed it. So far, Ogier has done nearly perfect work for Toyota as a part-time driver. It seems that the 40-year-old veteran has found a new spring in his step.

Ott Tänak 9

There’s the Ott we’ve been missing! Things started moving strongly in the right direction. Ultimately, he couldn’t match Ogier’s pace on Saturday, but he made very few mistakes and, on top of that, secured the weekend’s largest points haul of 26 championship points. Portugal has surely boosted Tänak’s confidence. However, the current points system makes climbing back into the championship fight challenging, as Tänak himself noted: everyone gets the same points.

Thierry Neuville 8

He didn’t rise to contend for the victory but drove a wise and mature rally. When Elfyn Evans dropped back, Neuville simply focused on securing as many points as possible. That’s always the mark of a champion. Could this finally be Neuville’s year? The signs are certainly very promising.

Adrien Fourmaux 8

He delivered at least another good rally. Fourmaux posted some very competitive times and occasionally stayed well within the leaders’ pace. The Frenchman from M-Sport might well achieve his first Rally1 class victory this season. Consistent and impressive work.

Dani Sordo 8

Despite it being ages since his last race in Rally1 equipment, it hardly showed. The rally veteran impressed, especially in the early stages, even setting the fastest times. Okay, his starting position was ideal, but still, his performance was solid, and surely his Norwegian colleague watched anxiously.

Elfyn Evans 7

Evans encountered difficulties on Friday, including a tyre puncture, and on top of that, his co-driver Scott Martin forgot to bring the pace notes. Despite these problems, Evans fought on. It’s hard to criticize him too much, although from a championship perspective, the weekend was not successful for the Welshman.

Kalle Rovanperä 6

It’s rare to say anything negative about Kalle, but now is the time. As he himself said, the weekend in Portugal didn’t yield anything. He crashed from the lead on Saturday, making it very difficult to give a good score. Everything was set for Rovanperä’s dominant victory, but the outcome was harshly disappointing for the Finn. There was speed, and he likely would have won without the error.

Takamoto Katsuta 8

He even led the rally at one stage early in the competition and once again showed his potential. However, like Rovanperä, Katsuta had to retire on Saturday. The cause of his retirement turned out to be a technical failure, so it’s hard to fault the Japanese driver too much. Before retiring, Katsuta was impressively in third place.

Gregoire Munster 4

There was no speed, nor much of anything else. He did suffer technical issues during the race, but even before they began, there wasn’t much happening. Then, he crowned his rally by crashing into a ditch on the penultimate special stage. The Luxembourger is in his debut season in the WRC’s top class, and with these performances, he risks failing the grade.

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