WRC Rally Portugal 2023: Drivers look to get ahead of championship leader

Eight-time champion Sebastian Ogier is not competing this week. Who will take the top spot in Portugal?

The World Rally Championship teams and drivers made it through an emotional race in Croatia last time. Just days after losing beloved driver Craig Breen, Elfyn Evans took his first win since October 2021. He and co-driver Scott Martin dedicated the win to Breen.

Three weeks later, the WRC grid heads to Portugal for the first of seven consecutive gravel events. After finishing fifth in Croatia, championship leader Sebastian Ogier will not compete this weekend. He and Evans are tied at the top of the WRC standings at 69 points. Ogier gets the tiebreaker thanks to his two victories to Evans’ one. Defending champion Kalle Rovanperä sits just one point back in third ahead of Ott Tänak in fourth with 65 points.

Last year’s event saw eventual champion Rovanperä win by 15 seconds over Evans. Here’s how the odds for victory this week look:

Rovanperä favored for first win of 2023 ahead of title rivals

After four events last year, Rovanperä had three wins in Sweden, Croatia, and Portugal. This year he has zero in four races. Three consecutive fourth-place finishes have followed his second place in the season opener in Monaco. But he’s favored at +220 to break through this week.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT has won the last three WRC Portugal events, including Rovanperä last season. He’s struggled to piece everything together to get a win so far in 2023. That could change if he gets his setup correct during the pre-event test.

Next up are Evans and Tänak, both at +320. Evans will be starting first in the order because of championship standing. With the race set for dry conditions this weekend, that could put him at a disadvantage. He benefits from Toyota’s recent dominance in this event, including his victory in 2021. He’s racing better than anyone over the last two events and has momentum.

Tänak bounced back in Croatia and looked like a threat for most of the Saturday stages. He ended up second to Evans by 27 seconds but will likely challenge for the victory this weekend. He’s starting third on the road in an event he won in 2019. He was also on pace to win in 2021 before rear suspension problems.

Thierry Neuville rounds out the favored challengers at +340. Neuville was in position for a comfortable win in Croatia before crashing out of stage 11. A potential 25-point haul dropped to zero, leaving him 11 points behind championship leaders Ogier and Evans. He has performed poorly in Portugal recently. His last win there came in 2018 before second place in 2019. Since then, he’s crashed out in 2021 and finished fifth in 2022. It’d be a significant change in form for a win here.

Longer shots for victory in Rally Portugal

Dani Sordo (+1200) is the first of the following group drivers. The Spanish driver has raced well in Portugal over the last few years. He finished third by 17 seconds last season and second to Evans in 2021. He’s off to an okay start in 2023, with seventh place in Monaco and fifth in Mexico. It’d be a surprise to see him on the top step this season, but Portugal would likely be one of his strongest events.

Esapekka Lappi’s third place in Croatia came as a slight surprise. He looked good in the gravel of Mexico and led after Friday’s running. His crash on stage 15 ended hopes of a win there but showcased how good he can be in the gravel. He hasn’t raced a WRC event in Portugal before in his career but won the WRC-2 event there in 2021.

Predictions for WRC Rally Portugal

The 2023 WRC title fight looks close. Five drivers — Ogier, Evans, Rovanperä, Tänak, and Neuville — have a legitimate shot at the championship as the schedule turns to gravel events.

Any four of those five (excluding Ogier due to his absence) have a solid shot at victory this weekend. Of those four, Tänak seems like the strongest choice. Tänak looked good in Croatia and nearly won this event in 2021. Evans will be at an early disadvantage due to his starting position, and Rovanperä hasn’t been on a good pace since Monaco.

If you’re looking for a higher reward bet, go with Lappi. He’s been in good form lately and could surprise again this weekend.

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