The opening 300 metres are on asphalt before the surface changes to compact gravel. The roads are narrow but smooth, and this is one of the quickest tests of the rally.
How the action unfolded:
Mads Ostberg became the new leader in Portugal on Friday’s second stage, when a quickest time though Ourique earned him a 3.9sec advantage over Sebastien Ogier who slipped to second.
Friday’s second stage of the morning loop featured a drier and cleaner surface than the first, and as the mid-morning temperature reached 17 degrees Celsius the abrasive road became harder on tyres.
His Fiesta RS shod with hard compound Michelins all round, Ostberg admitted he was on the limit. “We are pushing very hard - perhaps too hard in places,” he said. “Okay, not too many close calls but I don’t think I can do much more. We are going quite well and I’m confident I can push on this limit for a long time.”
Dani Sordo got closest to Ostberg’s time, the Citroen DS3 driver completing the stage 3.5sec slower to move third in the overall standings. “I’m happier than I was after the one before and the car feels good but my driving could be better,” he said. “Some small mistakes and I’m not braking well. Ostberg is really fast.”
Sebastien Ogier was third quickest in his Polo R but at the stage end was again reluctant to give much away about his progress. “I don’t know, at the moment it’s not too bad,” he said.
The Frenchman had been struck down by a virus before the rally but denied this was any cause for concern. “I’m okay, no problems at all,” he added.
Ford Fiesta RS driver Thierry Neuville was fourth quickest, 1.8sec off Ogier’s time and feeling that the drier conditions suited his choice of hard compound tyres. Neuville said: “I think the road on the first stage was too damp and we lost time there but this time I pushed at the maximum. I made one small mistake but overall it was a good feeling.”
Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala rounded off the top-five times, 10.5sec slower than Ostberg and already showing signs of deep frustration. The Finn accepted that tyre preservation was on his mind, but this wasn’t the reason for his disappointment. “Yes, we need to think about the whole [tyre] situation but to be honest I don’t have the confidence. That’s the reality.”
Mikko Hirvonen was also far from happy. The Finn was 1.6sec slower than Latvala and concerned by how his Citroen DS3 had changed character after he switched from a mixture of two hard and two soft tyres on SS1 to an all-hard set-up. “The first one was okay but after I changed the tyres the car is not good to drive at all – the balance is all wrong,” he explained.
Robert Kubica's WRC debut got off to a clean start on Friday's opener, but the Pole arrived at the finish of SS2 with his Citroen DS3 RRC in worrying shape. It's right-hand front tyre had been pushed half off the wheel and, more worryingly, the car's engine temperature alarm was sounding and the engine was leaking fluid.
After the finish control, crews headed to a remote refuel and then on to the start of the 20km Mu stage ready for the repeat loop.