The battle for the final step on the Vodafone Rally de Portugal podium was thrown wide open on Sunday morning following an overnight time penalty for Dani Sordo.
Stage info: SS16/17
SS16: Montim 1, 8.64km
The shortest ‘proper’ stage should be popular with drivers. Most of it is on sandy-based medium to wide roads and is generally flowing. The biggest challenges are the handful of twisty, boulder-lined sections and a couple of corners hidden over crests.
SS17: 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.
The Spaniard (above) received a 10sec penalty from stewards late on Saturday night for dislodging two bales on a Porto street stage roundabout in SS8 on Friday night.
The decision demoted the Hyundai i20 driver to fourth behind Teemu Suninen. Things became worse when he fell behind Esapekka Lappi into fifth in Sunday’s opening Montim speed test.
The game of musical chairs continued in the following Fafe special stage, as Sordo regained fourth by 0.7sec. He trailed new third-placed man Suninen by 9.5sec with three stages remaining in this sixth round of the FIA World Rally Championship.
“The car was sliding a lot at the rear in the first stage. I tried to do as well as possible but it was very slippery. We lost quite a bit of time to Suninen there,” explained a frustrated Sordo, who stopped the clocks second fastest in Fafe.
Suninen is on course for a career-best result in his Ford Fiesta and took second in Montim and fourth in Fafe. “I just need to improve the driving and I believe we can do it. I really want to be on the podium, we’re pushing quite a lot,” said the Finn.
It was the same message from Lappi, who was fastest in Montim and third in Fafe in his Toyota Yaris. “It’s a big battle but the gap is too big at the moment. I’m doing all I can but I can’t go faster. Teemu is doing a really good job,” he said.
Caution was the watchword for leader Thierry Neuville. The Belgian was the only man to opt for two spare tyres in his i20 and fifth in Montim and seventh in Fafe emphasised he was taking no risks.
“I took six tyres for safety. If we get a puncture I’m safe with two tyres. In Fafe I felt the rear moving a lot and I’m not happy with the balance. It’s going to be difficult for the Power Stage but the important thing is for us to get to the finish,” he said.
Neuville retained a comfortable 39.3sec lead over Elfyn Evans, while behind the battling podium trio, Norway’s Mads Østberg had a troublefree start to the day to remain sixth in his Citroen C3.