Just four stages stand between Kalle Rovanperä and his first triumph of the season after the Finn obliterated his rivals on Saturday at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Unyielding and unstoppable, the Toyota GR Yaris star unleashed an onslaught of raw speed as he romped to fastest times on five of the seven grueling gravel speed tests. What started as a modest lead of 10.7 seconds overnight was transformed into a mighty advantage of almost one minute by close of play on the penultimate day.
Rovanperä launched his attack from the outset, more than quadrupling his lead before the mid-leg halt. He delivered further blows when the classic roads of Vieira do Minho and Amarante were repeated after service, widening the gap further in rough and dusty conditions reminiscent of Safari Rally Kenya.
The 22-year-old, who is yet to win a rally so far this season, enters Sunday’s finale 57.5 seconds ahead of Hyundai Motorsport’s Dani Sordo.
Sordo, starting his third round of the season, quickly diverted his attention to the chasing i20 N cars of team-mates Esapekka Lappi and Thierry Neuville.
Lappi closed in on the Spaniard early in the day, climbing from fifth to third overall on the first pass of Vieira do Minho. But the Finn’s pace faded in the afternoon and he was passed by Neuville, who finished a mere 2.3 seconds ahead of him and 11.1 seconds adrift of Sordo.
Pierre-Louis Loubet retired close to the finish of Amarante 1 when a heavy impact damaged his Ford Puma’s steering, allowing M-Sport Ford team-mate Ott Tänak to profit by seizing fifth overall. The Estonian dropped time with wheel damage on Friday and languishes 2 minutes 21.8 seconds back from the lead after an off-pace day.
WRC2 cars filled the remainder of the leaderboard, headed by leader Oliver Solberg in a Škoda Fabia RS Rally2. Gus Greensmith, Yohan Rossel, Andreas Mikkelsen and Teemu Suninen completed the top 10.
Sunday’s finale is all about the extraordinary Fafe, its big jump before the finish and its crowds. Four tests clustered around the town total 55.42 km, with the rally-closing Wolf Power Stage in Fafe offering vital bonus points.