The Welshman won the opening Vieira do Minho and closing Amarante speed tests, sandwiching Kalle Rovanperä’s fastest time in Cabeceiras de Basto, to increase his overnight advantage from 13.6sec to 18.4sec.
A consistent morning from Takamoto Katsuta in a third GR Yaris enabled the Japanese driver to overhaul Dani Sord for third. The gap between the pair as they returned to Matosinhos for service was 3.5sec.
Tyre choice played a crucial part on the powdery Cabreira Mountain roads. Both Evans and Rovanperä favoured Pirelli’s soft compound Scorpion rubber which offered more grip on the loose tracks than the harder version.
“It wasn’t easy, the sand was really thick in places and it was difficult to get traction,” explained Evans as he emerged from Amarante, at 37.24km the longest stage of the rally. “It’s difficult to know if you are doing well or not. You just have to trust your rhythm.”
Rovanperä struggled to match his colleague with tired tyres. “It didn’t work out with the tyres so well,” said the Finn. “We had two used ones from yesterday so they were on the limit already.”
Katsuta admitted to a couple of scares in Cabeceiras de Basto after which he eased his pace. But that was still enough to defeat Sordo in all three tests and move ahead of the Hyundai i20 N pilot in Amarante.
Thierry Neuville was almost a minute behind team-mate Sordo in fifth after demoting Pierre-Louis Loubet and Gus Greensmith. The Belgian was 43.8sec clear of Loubet, whose choice of hard tyres was compounded by a spin.
M-Sport Ford team-mates Craig Breen and Greensmith were seventh and eighth in their Pumas. Both lost time on the harder rubber but Greensmith’s bigger loss came with a front right puncture in the opening test.
Ott Tänak and Adrian Fourmaux completed the leaderboard in an i20 N and a Puma. After losing time yesterday, Tänak focused on improving his car’s set-up while Fourmaux dropped behind the Estonian after changing a rear left puncture in Amarante.
Sébastiens Loeb and Ogier restarted after retiring yesterday. Loeb exited for a second time when his Puma stopped in the middle test with no power, while Ogier went off the road in the same stage and later retired.
• Full coverage from Vodafone Rally de Portugal is available on WRC+ All Live here, including every stage broadcast as it happens as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis from the service park.