This stage runs in the opposite direction to previous years. The road is generally mid-to-wide but narrows in places. It's smooth, but with bed rock showing in some sections.
How the action unfolded:
Sebastien Ogier emerged from Saturday morning’s loop of stages with his lead of Rally de Portugal intact but feeling the effects of the virus that forced him out of the Fafe Rally Sprint last week.
The Frenchman, who leads the drivers’ championship, was quickest through the Loule test [SS8] and headed back to service with an advantage of 14.1sec over his Volkswagen Motorsport team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Mikko Hirvonen is third, the Citroen DS3 driver 23.1sec further back in third.
Ogier began the day with his lead under threat from a hard-charging Dani Sordo. But after the Citroen driver crashed out on today’s opener, Ogier was left battling his team-mate Latvala and his own health.
“It’s been tough because after about 10km on each stage I get low on energy and I really have to fight. It’s not easy for me,” he said.
Latvala, in contrast, enjoyed an excellent morning in the second Polo R. The Finn won two stages and seemed happier behind the wheel than at any point so far this season.
On completing SS8 in the second quickest time, a confident Latvala said: “A pretty good stage, to be honest. The mid-section was really, really fast and I tried to push there. The fast stuff appears to suit us well. My tyres now are very on the limit, though.”
With Sordo out, Citroen’s hopes of victory this weekend ride with Hirvonen. The Finn was third quickest on all three of today’s stages, but wasn’t able to stop the lead Volkswagen drivers pulling further ahead in the overall standings with every stage.
“The first two stages were okay but both VWs were fast here and that’s not good,” Hirvonen explained after SS8. “I have to try and keep the pressure on Jari-Matti, that’s all I can do. My car feels really good, I just need to work on my driving rhythm.”
The pace of the leading trio, and the retirement of Thierry Neuville from fourth on SS6, has pulled them clear of the chasing pack and there is a 2m14s gap to the man in fourth place, Ford Fiesta RS driver Evgeny Novikov.
The Russian remained uncharacteristically downbeat this morning, and was unable to explain why his stage times were so far off those of the leaders.
Another 1m45s further back, fellow Fiesta RS driver Nasser Al-Attiyah is well cushioned in fifth. Martin Prokop is sixth in another Fiesta, more than 5min behind Ogier.
MINI JCW driver Michal Kosciusko is seventh, the Pole struggling with badly scrubbed and overheating DMACK tyres.
Kosciusko’s place is under threat from Andreas Mikkelsen who, after power-steering problems on day one, is making progress back up the standings and continuing to learn on his first rally with Volkwsagen’s Polo R.
“I have way too much information in my pace notes and because everything appears so fast in a World Rally Car I need to take some details out,” he said after SS8. “Some terrible driving from me too - I felt like a virgin out there!”
After a 30-minute service, crews will repeat the morning's three stages this afternoon. The second pass through the Santana da Serra test [SS9] gets underway at 1509hrs.