Sébastien Ogier and Thierry Neuville traded stage wins at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Saturday afternoon and it was the Frenchman who emerged with an enhanced lead.
Stage info: SS13/14
SS13: Vieira do Minho 2, 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.
SS14: Cabeceiras de Basto 2, 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.
Neuville topped the times in Vieira do Minho by 1.0sec from Ogier before the places were reversed in Cabeceiras de Basto. Ogier was 4.5sec faster than the Belgian to extend his advantage to 23.0sec with one test remaining in the penultimate leg.
“I pushed more in the second stage than the first. I saved my tyres in the opener so I knew I could push more in the next one. It’s all about the long final stage now. If the gap stays like this it’s comfortable and even if I lose a little then it’s OK,” said Ford Fiesta pilot Ogier.
Neuville opted for a mix of hard and soft compound Michelin rubber on his Hyundai i20 Coupe which proved a mixed blessing. “There are sections where we gain with the softs and others where we lose. The car is working a bit better but it’s not enough to challenge Mr Ogier,” he said.
Third-placed Dani Sordo stretched the gap over a worried Craig Breen to 28.6sec. “There’s something strange at the front. It felt very strange for the last 5km, I need to go and have a look,” said Citroën C3 driver Breen.
Juho Hänninen lost sixth place when his Toyota Yaris stopped for almost a minute in Cabeceiras de Basto. “Maybe it’s a lack of fuel pressure. I was able to fix it but then the engine started to cut again near the finish,” explained the Finn.
His troubles allowed Elfyn Evans up to sixth and Esapekka Lappi into seventh. Evans struggled with the balance of his Fiesta after opting for an experimental tyre package for the afternoon, running hard compound rubber at the front and soft at the rear for the first time.
Hayden Paddon’s troubled weekend continued when he retired his Hyundai i20 Coupe early in Vieira do Minho with broken power steering.