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Rovanpera wins Rally of Portugal to extend lead in title race

Finnish driver Kalle Rovanpera flew to victory in the Rally of Portugal . ©AFP

Matosinhos (Portugal) (AFP) - Finnish driver Kalle Rovenpera strengthened his lead in the World Rally Championship with victory ahead of Welshman Elfyn Evans in the Rally of Portugal on Sunday.

The 21-year-old Rovenpera finished 15.2 seconds ahead of his Toyota teammate to move 46 points clear of Hyundai's Thierry Neuville after four rounds of the WRC season. 

Spaniard Dani Sordo, also in a Hyundai, finished third over two minutes behind Rovenpera, edging out Takamoto Katsuta (Toyota) and Neuville who came in fifth.

"Right now it looks like we're on a really good streak!" said Rovanpera, the youngest-ever winner in Portugal who picked up an extra five points for winning the Power Stage.

"To be honest, to start first and fight for a win like that is really good.Our car was perfect as always." 

It was his fifth victory overall and his third this season following wins in Sweden and Croatia. 

This fourth leg of the 13-rally championship was played out on rough dirt roads but Rovenpera mastered the conditions without the slightest hitch as he took eight of the special stages. 

Impressive on Friday and Saturday, when both days were marked by mechanical problems through the field and the retirements of the two French grandees Sebastien Loeb (Ford) and Sebastien Ogier (Toyota), Rovanpera managed his lead perfectly during the final stages on Sunday. 

Evans, who won in Portugal last year, pressed him all the way but could not get close enough to exert real pressure on the young Finn.

"An important result this weekend and great to be back on the podium,"  Evans tweeted. 

"Disappointed that we couldn’t take the win but it’s a strong result after a difficult start to the year.I know where we can improve and that's the aim for the next few rallies."

Neuville's title hopes were damaged on Friday when he lost a wheel during SS8. 

Toyota lead the constructors' championship with 175 points, ahead of Hyundai (116) and the Fords of the M-Sport team (94).

Rally of Portugal final standings on Sunday, the 4th round of 13 scheduled for the world championship: 

Overall

1. Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (FIN/Toyota) 3hr 44min 19.2sec, 2. Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (GBR/Toyota) at 15.2, 3. Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (ESP/Hyundai) 2:17.3, 4. Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (JPN-IRL/Toyota) 2:19.4, 5. Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (BEL/Hyundai) 2:37.8, 6. Ott Tänak - Martin Jarveoja (EST/Hyundai) 4:45.7, 7. Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (FRA/M-Sport Ford) 5:52.1, 8. Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (IRL/M-Sport Ford) 7:03.4, 9. Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (FRA/M-Sport Ford) 8:09.6, 10. Yohan Rossel/Valentin Sarreaud (FRA/Citroen WRC2) 13:48.9

Stage winners: 

Kalle Rovanperä 8 (SS7, SS8, SS11, SS13, SS14, SS17, ES20), Elfyn Evans 6 (SS2, SS3, SS6, SS9, SS10, SS12), Thierry Neuville 2 (SS1, SS15), Ott Tanak 2 (SS18, SS19), Sebastien Loeb (SS4), Sebastien Ogier 1 (SS5) 

Power Stage:

1. Kalle Rovenpera (5 pts), 2. Dani Sordo (4), 3. Thierry Neuville (3), 4. Ott Tanak (2), 5. Elfyn Evans (1) 

World Rally Championship standings (after 4 of 13 scheduled rallies)

Drivers: 1. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN) 106 points, 2. Thierry Neuville (BEL) 60, 3. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN) 38, 4. Ott Tänak (EST) 37, 5. Elfyn Evans (GBR) 36, 6. Craig Breen (IRL) 34, 7. Sebastien Loeb (FRA) 27, 8. Gus Greensmith (GBR) 20, 9. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) 19, 10. Dani Sordo (FIN) 19

Constructors: 1. Toyota 175 points, 2. Hyundai 116, 3. M-Sport/Ford 94

Next rally: Sardinia 2-5 June