There were no dramas for Vodafone Rally de Portugal leader Sébastien Ogier as he eased through Sunday morning’s opening two speed tests to edge further clear of Thierry Neuville.
Stage info: SS16/17
SS16: Fafe 1, 11.18km
Fafe is one of the WRC’s iconic locations. It is all about the final 2km where tens of thousands of fans flock to two famous sections. They stand high on the hillside to view the cars heading downhill into a square left corner, before a small section of asphalt leads into a hairpin back onto gravel. Just before the finish is a stomach-churning jump. In the first few kilometres fans have painted the names of their favourite drivers on rocks that line the stage.
SS17: Luilhas, 17.91km
Another new stage and one that starts narrow with small banks on either side. It’s generally fast with some long straights. After a twisty section from 2.3km, the stage opens out and there are fast corners between huge boulders. At 9.5km it drops downhill before a sequence of hairpins to the finish.
The Frenchman, chasing a record-equalling fifth Portuguese success, was fourth in the opening Fafe special stage before winning the following Luilhas to increase his advantage to 19.3sec.
Ogier made one of the biggest leaps over the famous Fafe jump in his Ford Fiesta and was comfortable with his pace. “We have to cross the finish line but I’m happy so far. The second stage was very slippery, quite a lot of loose gravel on the road,” he explained.
Neuville was in no mood to try to hunt down Ogier, preferring to treat Fafe as a high-speed recce for this afternoon’s second pass when Power Stage bonus points are on offer.
“Nobody has been able to chase down Ogier with a 16sec lead on the final day,” said the Hyundai i20 driver. “We have to be clever, it was a good clean run to check my notes for the Power Stage. I tried to be careful with my tyres in both stages,” he said.
Dani Sordo remained third in another i20, the Spaniard raising his pace to go second in Luilhas and crush any hopes Ott Tänak may have had of piling on the pressure. “I was a little relaxed in Fafe,” said Sordo, who was only ninth fastest. “Ott was really, really quick so I pushed a little more in the next one.”
The gap between the pair was more than half a minute and Tänak was another to focus on the bonus points available later today in his Fiesta.
“That’s not so good. I thought I was going quite slow, but this was far too fast!” the Estonian said after Luilhas. “My rhythm was maybe too fast. Today is a different target, I’m thinking about the Power Stage points and not trying to catch Dani.”
Jari-Matti Latvala spent last night in hospital to rehydrate his body after struggling yesterday with a stomach upset. The Finn felt much better this morning but was lucky to escape a brush with a bank on the famous asphalt section in Fafe. He also had a half-spin in Luilhas.
Hayden Paddon was fastest in Fafe in his i20 but both he and Citroën C3 driver Kris Meeke spun in Luilhas.