The stage starts on a wide road and is flat-out for almost 6km, before dropping downhill on a gravel-covered section where braking is tricky. It was here that Jari-Matti Latvala had one of the biggest rally crashes of all time in 2009, when he rolled more than 200 metres down a hillside. The road drops into a valley and opens up towards the finish.
How the action unfolded:
All the talk at the stage end concerned tyre choice. With no mid-leg service, drivers must tackle the entire day with the compounds they chose in the Estadio Algarve service park this morning.
The skies were clear and sunny, but damp roads after overnight rain and cool morning temperatures prompted big variations in choices. While some drivers opted for hard rubber, others selected a mix of soft and hard compounds.
Sebastien Ogier was bravest of all, selecting four soft and two hard tyres for his Volkswagen Polo R. With all four softs fitted he was unsurprisingly fastest by 4.0sec, but the Frenchman’s demeanour suggested he was unsure if soft rubber would be the right choice as the day progressed.
“We will see. I will give you the answer later in the day,” was as far as he would go.
Mads Ostberg was second in a Ford Fiesta RS, the Norwegian opting for five hard tyres.
“That wasn’t so bad,” he said. “It was more slippery than we thought but I think we did a good stage. It will start to get better for us on the next stage and hard tyres will give us an advantage when we repeat the stages, so we can afford to lose a little bit now.”
Mikko Hirvonen was third, 8.4sec behind Ogier, in a Citroen DS3 and the Finn was another who was unsure if his option of two hard tyres on the front and two softs on the rear was correct.
“Conditions were very changeable. Some parts were dry and some were greasy and slippery, but I’m really happy with the car,” he said.
Fourth was Jari-Matti Latvala, his Polo R 1.9sec behind Hirvonen. He also opted for two soft and two hard tyres, but the softs were already showing clear signs of wear.
“The roads were drying so much that the soft tyres started to move towards the end of the stage. The first 10km were OK, but then I started to lose confidence in the faster corners,” said the Finn.
Dani Sordo, with hard tyres all round, was fifth and the Spaniard was happy. “It’s a long day and the temperature will become hotter, so I think it should be better for the hard compound,” he said.
The top six was rounded off by Thierry Neuville’s Fiesta RS, the Belgian admitting he was perhaps too careful in places.