Jari-Matti Latvala put a smile back on his face after a dismal run of three consecutive pointless rounds by leading Vodafone Rally de Portugal after Friday’s opening leg.
He won the same stage this morning and this afternoon in his Volkswagen Polo R to open a 11.1sec advantage over Kris Meeke in Citroën’s DS 3. Andreas Mikkelsen was a further 4.9sec behind in another Polo R.
“It’s coming good,” said the Finn. “After a steady start we increased the pace stage by stage and attacked more. That final stage suited me well. I’ve had hard times recently so it would be great to have a good event, but tomorrow will be tough.”
Latvala’s low start position, the result of his disappointing season, helped him on soft, sandy roads this morning as the early starters swept away loose gravel to leave a cleaner road for those behind.
The stages were less slippery but rougher this afternoon, rocks and deep ruts prompting many drivers to raise the height of their cars to protect them from damage.
Meeke was the closest challenger for the lead for much of the day, but top spot changed hands on several occasions as Dani Sordo and Mikkelsen each led before Latvala took control.
Ott Tänak enjoyed a strong debut in the new Ford Fiesta RS to hold fourth, 1.8sec behind Mikkelsen. Sordo’s Hyundai i20 was fifth and road opener Sébastien Ogier, who suffered most from sweeping the gravel, completed the top six in his Polo R.
Mads Østberg joined Sordo, Latvala, Mikkelsen and Ogier as a stage winner in his DS 3 and was seventh, 5.4sec behind Ogier. Hayden Paddon, Thierry Neuville and Robert Kubica completed the top 10.
Soft compound tyres were the option of virtually all the frontrunners this morning – except Neuville, who opted for hard rubber in the hope of benefiting from having more soft tyres left later in the event.
Elfyn Evans was sidelined with a fly-by-wire throttle problem in his Fiesta RS while Lorenzo Bertelli completed all the stages in his similar car, but could not drive the final liaison section after two punctures left him with no more spare wheels.
This afternoon’s opening stage was cancelled due to fires in the hills near the Spanish border.
The rally restarts from Matasinhos, near Porto, at 07.30 tomorrow. Drivers face two identical loops of three stages in the Serra do Marão mountains, near Amarante, covering 165.08km.
The length of the sections and temperatures forecast to hit 25˚C mean tyre choice will play a crucial role.