A smooth stage on a mid-to-wide road, the route passes beneath the motorway in two places. For the main part speeds are medium, but it becomes extremely fast towards the finish.
How the action unfolded:
Both rally leader Sebastien Ogier and second-placed Jari-Matti Latvala encountered problems with their Volkswagen Polo Rs during a dramatic opening to the third and final leg of Rally de Portugal this morning.
Ogier dropped 35sec and Latvala ceded more than 1min 15sec as Mikko Hirvonen suddenly found himself within striking distance of the lead in his Citroen DS3.
Ogier restarted with a 34.8sec lead over his team-mate, but completed the test with the hazard warning lights flashing.
“I have a problem with the car. I do not want to tell you,” said the tight-lipped Frenchman when quizzed at the finish.
WRC-2 category leader Esapekka Lappi, who is immediately behind Ogier in the running order, said the Volkswagen pilot was working on the car before the start and it appeared it only had two-wheel drive as he left the start line.
Ogier stopped on the road section to work on the car. “It wasn’t working at the beginning but after 10km everything was working again and we finished the stage normally. For me it’s not a driveshaft or a differential,” said Ogier, before suggesting the problem could be clutch related.
Latvala was more forthcoming at the stage end. “At the first corner something broke in the transmission. I don’t know what it is but it feels like a driveshaft.”
He also stopped on the road section to work on the car and added: “The car suddenly lost drive on a left-hand corner. I carried on in two-wheel drive. It looks like the front differential exploded. It’s never happened before,” said the distraught Finn.
Asked whether he could make it through the following test, he said: “I have to.”
Hirvonen was second in the stage and now lies 37.9sec behind Ogier, while relegating Latvala to third. The gap between the pair is 37.4sec and the drivers must now tackle the monster 52.30km Almodovar stage before the sanctuary of service.
Aside from Volkswagen’s troubles, dust was the major talking point from the drivers. Despite the gap between cars being increased from two to three minutes, the still early morning air left dust clouds hanging in the air, with visibility especially tricky between the trees.
Hirvonen, who completed the stage ahead of the VW pair, said: “In some places dust was a problem against the low sun and it was tricky. The next stage is a long one and it will be difficult for the tyres.”
Mads Ostberg was fastest in a Ford Fiesta RS, 5.1sec quicker than Hirvonen, with the similar cars of Nasser Al-Attiyah and Thierry Neuville third and fourth.