Saturday | 05 Apr 2014

Rally de Portugal: Saturday update #7

In summary

Sébastien Ogier tops the Rally de Portugal leaderboard after day 3 with a 38.1sec advantage over Mikko Hirvonen. Mads Østberg is third after Ott Tänak crashed.

Here are the biggest stories of the day:

Update #7: tough end of day for Hyundai

Broken suspension on Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20 cost the Belgian almost 3min 30sec in today’s final stage, the 22.15km Malhao (SS13).

Neuville broke a suspension link after hitting the rear left in the previous Santana da Serra test and had to nurse his car home. He stopped mid-stage to allow team-mate Dani Sordo to pass and dropped two places to seventh overall. A 10sec time penalty for starting the stage 1min late then dropped him to ninth.

Team-mate Juho Hänninen dropped time towards the end of the stage with what he believed was a broken driveshaft on his i20. Having just regained eighth from Martin Prokop, the Finn is now back to ninth.

Henning Solberg reported issues with the handbrake on his Ford Fiesta RS, but the Norwegian still climbed to fifth after Neuville’s problems.

Update #6: Suspension drama for Neuville

Thierry Neuville dropped two minutes in the second pass through the long, muddy Santana da Serra (SS12) after damaging the rear suspension of his Hyundai i20.

The Belgian was fastest to the 18km mark in the 31.90km test, but began haemorraghing time soon after. His tyre was shredded but, more seriously, it seemed a link was broken in the suspension.

“It was part of the stage where the road was wider. I hit something very slightly and it seems we have broken something. I can drive, everything is working but the wheel is moving around,” said Neuville.

Team-mate Dani Sordo caught Neuville about 2km from the end, but the Spaniard reckoned it didn’t cost much time.

There was good news and bad for Andreas Mikkelsen. The Norwegian was able to repair his damaged power steering before the start, but as a result he didn’t have time to fit the two spare soft tyres waiting in the back of his Polo R.

Update #5: Double century for VW

Leader Sébastien Ogier claimed the Volkswagen Polo R’s 200th stage win with fastest time through the 19.09km Santa Clara (SS11). With 307 stages run since VW entered the WRC last year, that’s an impressive win rate of 65 per cent.

Ogier and second-placed Mikko Hirvonen opted for soft compound Michelin rubber, Ogier carrying one spare while Hirvonen took a cautious two. The big question is that with temperatures climbing and the roads drying, will soft rubber last 73.14km of stages?

Hirvonen’s rear left was already worn. “I’ll go flat out as long as the tyres last,” he said.

Andreas Mikkelsen drove more than half the stage with no power steering on his Polo R. With a 31.90km test next, he wasn’t looking forward to it. “I’m not entering a strong man competition!” he said.

Jari-Matti Latvala finished with a slow puncture on the front right of his Polo R. “It happened at the midpoint after 10km, I started to feel something strange,” said Latvala, who is carrying just one spare.

Juho Hänninen picked up his third flat of the weekend after hitting a bank at the flying finish and damaging the rear left tyre on his Hyundai i20. Like Latvala, he also has one spare.

Update #4: Tänak caught out

Ott Tanäk crashed out of third place in the 22.15km Malhao (SS10) when the Estonian went off the road at the same place where Jari-Matti Latvala suffered his monster crash in 2009.

Tanak’s Fiesta RS came to rest blocking the road, and both Mikko Hirvonen and Jari Ketomaa were held up for several minutes. The stage was neutralised and the remaining competitors drove through uncompetitively. Notional times will be awarded to those crews.

Both Tanak and co-driver Raigo Mölder are reported to be OK.

Latvala’s crash in 2009 was one of the biggest in WRC history. A long fast straight leads into a right corner that tightens into an immediate left bend. Latvala’s car leapt the crash barrier and plunged almost 200 metres down a hillside as it rolled 12 times.

Update #3: Ogier back in front

It was all change at the top of the leaderboard in the demanding 31.90km Santana da Serra (SS9), the longest stage of the rally.

On the test that was most badly affected by flash flooding during Tuesday’s recce, Sébastien Ogier blitzed his rivals to post fastest time by a massive 8.4sec and relegate Mikko Hirvonen and Ott Tänak in the overall standings.

The Frenchman leads Hirvonen by 2.4sec in his Volkswagen Polo R, with Tänak slipping to third, a further 8.6sec back. The Estonian arrived at the finish with the rear anti-roll bar trailing at the back of the Ford Fiesta RS.

Kubica's Fiesta RS slid off the Malhao stage

Robert Kubica must wonder what he has to do to earn some luck – the Pole is on the sidelines again this morning after hitting trouble.

His Ford Fiesta RS slid off the road 20.7km into the longest test of the event, the car reported to be undamaged but stuck.

Kubica and co-driver Maciej Szczepaniak managed to get the car back onto the gravel but in doing so damaged the clutch and they could not continue.

Update #2: Puncture for Juho

Juho Hänninen completed today’s opening 19.09km Santa Clara stage with a rear left puncture on his Hyundai i20.

The Finn drove the second half of the stage with the flat, dropping about 20sec. He had no time to stop and talk at the finish as he rushed off to replace the battered wheel before the liaison section to the following Santana da Serra test.

More stories emerged about late night work in the service park to repair the cars of those drivers who crashed yesterday.

The M-Sport mechanics completed the rebuild of Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta RS at 04.00 following his roll in Almodovar yesterday morning, while Volkswagen used a fork-lift truck to help straighten the chassis leg of Jari-Matti Latvala’s Polo R.

Update #1: Meeke retires

Kris Meeke did not restart Rally de Portugal this morning following his roll on yesterday’s final Almodovar stage (SS7).

Meeke rolled his Citroen DS3 at the same point as Elfyn Evans crashed earlier in the day. When his car was returned to the service park late last night it was discovered the roll cage was damaged in the accident and could not be repaired.

Juho Hänninen dropped down the leaderboard late last night when his notional time for yesterday morning’s cancelled Almodovar stage (SS4) was adjusted to take into account a puncture he suffered on his Hyundai i20.

The Finn changed the flat before encountering a blockage caused by Robert Kubica’s accident. The stage was eventually cancelled and all drivers who did not complete it unhindered received a notional time.

The time Hänninen lost with the puncture was not included in his allotted time, until organisers modified it last night. He restarts today in 12th.