Ott Tänak increased his Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead on Saturday morning as M-Sport team-mate Sébastien Ogier emerged as his closest challenger.
Stage info: SS10/11
SS10: Vieira do Minho 1, 17.43km
The stage has a little of everything – sandy sections contrast with a clay surface and wide roads are followed by narrower stretches. Some parts have been regraded with dust and dirt placed on top and compacted. It winds its way between big boulders in the opening few kilometres while a new finish section brings challenging corners which the drivers will relish.
SS11: Cabeceiras de Basto 1, 22.30km
A new stage this year, but drivers might recognise the section from 7.9km to 11.1km as part of one used in 2015. It is sandy based, wide and fast and the soft surface will cut up for the second pass. On the recce a shaded section at 5km was muddy but this should have dried out. At 8km the road widens, with more loose gravel, and heads downhill until a hairpin at 11.1km where it levels out. At 18.8km it’s back to a sandy, narrow road to the finish.
Ogier slashed Tänak’s advantage to 1.1sec after winning the opening Vieira do Minho speed test in his Ford Fiesta. The Estonian retaliated to stop the clocks 5.2sec quicker in the following Cabeceiras de Basto and widen the gap to 6.3sec.
It was the biggest lead margin of the rally and Tänak pledged to keep the speed high.
“Seb’s doing well but I didn’t drive the opening stage last year so I was perhaps not fully committed in places. The nest stage was new for all of us so I decided to go for a clean run and it was nearly perfect. If you want to be in front there’s no other option then to keep this up,” he said.
Ogier demoted Dani Sordo from second and was happy to be relieved of yesterday’s road opening duties. “I wanted to have a better road position today and I have to use it. It’s a different world now,” he said.
Thierry Neuville also moved ahead of team-mate Sordo after claiming third fastest in both tests in his Hyundai i20 Coupe.
“I was missing traction in the opening stage. The road was polished and I had stiffer springs than usual. The next stage was rougher so I needed the strength to look after the car. I had better grip in there,” explained the Belgian.
Neuville was 12.6sec behind Ogier and 3.8sec ahead of Sordo, who struggled on roads that were faster than yesterday.
Elfyn Evans relegated Craig Breen from fifth in the opener but dropped almost 90sec when he punctured in the next test. “I had a moment on a right corner. I went wide and had to avoid a stone on the outside. I missed the next corner and went off. I’m lucky to be here,” said the Welshman.
Evans dropped to seventh, allowing Juho Hänninen into sixth in his Toyota Yaris. Team-mate Esapekka Lappi dropped about 40sec after stalling in Cabeceiras de Basto, while team leader Jari-Matti Latvala was exhausted after barely sleeping last night due to a fever.
Hayden Paddon started under Rally 2 rules after he retired last night to allow the Hyundai team to replace his i20’s wiring loom following electrical problems.