Thursday | 12 May 2022

Rally rewind: Portugal 2021

Vodafone Rally de Portugal (19 - 22 May) marks the first gravel fixture of the FIA World Rally Championship’s hybrid era. Let’s recall what happened last year in the country’s final World Rally Car encounter.

1. Patient Evans celebrates
Victory was the perfect antidote for Elfyn Evans after the heartbreak of defeat by fractions of a second at the previous round in Croatia.

The Welshman’s fourth WRC win promoted him to second in the drivers’ standings behind Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Sébastien Ogier. It might not have been a barnstorming start-to-finish success, but the result was all-important.

Evans lacked confidence initially as soft tyres left his Toyota Yaris feeling unstable. But a solid fourth turned into an impressive second towards the close of Friday’s opening leg as Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville hit trouble.

Evans had no answer to leader Ott Tänak’s pace on Saturday, but when the Estonian hotshot fell by the wayside, he was perfectly placed to capitalise. He doubled his Saturday night lead in Sunday’s final leg to win by a comfortable 28.3sec.

2. Tänak’s rollercoaster
Tänak experienced the joy and agony of the WRC across 24 hours. After winning a morning fight with his Hyundai i20’s handling, he inherited a slender lead in Friday’s penultimate test.

If the opening day was a gritty battle, Saturday’s second leg was glorious domination. He claimed a clean sweep of stage wins in the morning and scored his 250th WRC fastest time in the afternoon as his advantage neared 30sec.

But disaster struck in the penultimate Amarante test, the longest of the rally at almost 38km. Tänak was fastest at the interim split points, but his rear right wheel buckled and despite trying to limp to the finish, he parked his crippled i20 with smashed suspension.

Limited consolation came from returning the following day to claim maximum bonus points by winning the Wolf Power Stage.

3. Friday’s frenzied finale
Hyundai Motorsport was on course to lockout the top three on Friday night – until a crazy penultimate stage in Mortagua, back on the agenda for the first time in 20 years.

Longtime leader Sordo stalled his car’s engine to concede his advantage to Tänak, but a worse fate befell Thierry Neuville, lying second in another i20.

The Belgian was too hot into a right corner, slid into a bank and the car tipped onto its side. The crew righted it and limped to the finish but the impact shattered the rear right suspension and they retired.

From a dominant 1-2-3 late on Friday, the Korean manufacturer had to make do with Sordo’s second place come Sunday afternoon’s finish.

Video: Vodafone Rally de Portugal 2021 best of action

4. Best yet for Taka
Takamoto Katsuta scored a career-best fourth place in his Yaris. The Japanese driver traded places with team-mate Ogier during Saturday’s gruelling leg in the Cabreira Mountains and was only 1.5sec adrift by nightfall. Katsuta was in no mood to take risks by fighting the reigning champion on the final day and throttled back to protect his position.

5. And for Greensmith too
Gus Greensmith loves Portugal’s roads. And the Briton emphasised the fact by equalling his best WRC result in fifth behind Katsuta. A first-day puncture cost vital seconds but he scored his first top-three stage times as he climbed the order, despite throttle trouble with his Ford Fiesta.

• Full coverage from Vodafone Rally de Portugal will be available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park

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