Thursday | 12 May 2016

Rally rewind: Portugal 2015

Last year's Portuguese round was the setting for a tense victory battle between Volkswagen team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Sébastien Ogier, while behind them Andreas Mikkelsen had his sights set on a VW 1-2-3.

Friday 22 May
Latvala hits the front

Jari-Matti Latvala put a dismal run of three consecutive pointless rounds firmly behind him on day one at Vodafone Rally de Portugal by hitting the front in his VW Polo R.

The Finn benefited from a low start position on the soft, sandy roads but he didn’t have it his own way. Dani Sordo and Andreas Mikkelsen both had a turn at the front before Latvala eventually took over and established a 11.2s lead over Citroën’s Kris Meeke. Mikkelsen was third.

“It’s coming good,” Latvala said. “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.”

Ott Tänak enjoyed a strong debut in the new Ford Fiesta RS to hold fourth, while Sordo’s Hyundai i20 was fifth. Road opener, Sébastien Ogier, who suffered most from sweeping the gravel, completed the top six in his Polo R.

Meeke held on to third place

Saturday 23 May
Ogier fights back

Latvala clung onto the lead during day two after repelling a determined charge from team-mate Ogier. Despite enduring the worst road conditions of the frontrunners, Ogier won all three afternoon speed tests to jump from sixth place to second and slash Latvala’s advantage from 25.9s to only 9.5s.

The Finn was relieved to complete the day ahead of his hard-charging team-mate, while Ogier promised to repeat his speed on the final day. “We took some risk with tyre choice. It wasn’t so bad but it was on the limit. I'll keep pushing flat out and let's see where we are tomorrow,” he said.

Meeke held on to third place, albeit by a slender margin of only 1.1s from Mikkelsen. The Norwegian would have taken third place if he hadn’t spun his Polo R just before the finish of the day’s final stage.

Tänak fell away from the podium battle but was untroubled in fifth, while Sordo headed a thrilling battle for sixth after team-mate Hayden Paddon surrendered the place as he suffered a broken gearbox late in the day.

Mikkelsen came close to losing third place on Sunday

Sunday 24 May
Latvala heads VW 1-2-3

Latvala kept his cool on the final day to finish 8.2s ahead of world champion Ogier. It was the Finn’s first victory since October 2014. He was a relieved man.

Mikkelsen completed the podium after finishing a further 20.4sec behind Ogier to ensure Volkswagen completed a clean sweep of the top-three places with its Polo R car.

“After the last three rallies some people were doubting if I would come back,” said Latvala. “It was one of the worst situations in my rally career so to come and win here is unique. I really appreciate this victory feeling.”

Meeke very nearly snatched the final podium place from Mikkelsen after a fierce scrap on the final day reduced the Norwegian’s advantage to 0.4s. But the Northern Irishman’s charge was curtailed on the penultimate stage when his DS3 suffered a broken anti-roll bar.

Tänak finished a confidence-boosting fifth, while Sordo rounded out the top six in his Hyundai.

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