Jari-Matti Latvala overcame a back injury to lead Vodafone Rally de Portugal midway through Friday’s action.
Stage info: SS3 / SS4
SS3: Caminha 1, 18.03km
Caminha runs predominantly in the open with spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean near the start. Much of the forest has been destroyed by fire and this improves driver visibility. It is a mix of tight twisty roads and faster flowing sections with a few small crests. The surface is bumpy but it’s fast in places with several long straights. The stage is identical to 2016, but driven in the opposite direction.
SS4: Ponte de Lima 1, 27.46km
Like the previous test, Ponte de Lima is driven in the opposite direction to last year. It is best known for being the stage in which Hayden Paddon and Ott Tänak crashed 12 months ago when the Kiwi’s Hyundai i20 burned out. The roads are wide and smooth but extremely twisty, with hardly a straight to speak of. There are plenty of surface changes as it includes sandy gravel, cobblestones, concrete and asphalt.
The Finn, driving a Toyota Yaris, headed Kris Meeke by half a second after three morning speed tests near the Spanish border. It was incredibly tight at the top with Ott Tänak 0.7sec further back and just two-tenths separating the Estonian from Craig Breen in fourth.
Latvala relegated Hayden Paddon from the lead by winning the 18.03km Caminha test and held onto his advantage despite finishing only seventh in Ponte de Lima. He aggravated a back injury in yesterday’s shakedown.
“Yesterday night I wasn’t sure if I would drive today. Luckily we have a good team and my recovery started overnight. I’m not 100 per cent, about 97. I knew I would lose time on the last stage. In the recce it wasn’t the easiest stage, I made quite a lot of changes to my notes,” he said.
Meeke tied with Tänak and Breen for fastest time in Ponte de Lima in his Citroën C3. The Briton had a low start position but felt there was no benefit from cleaner roads. “The ruts just get deeper, it’s tricky to drive this far back,” he said.
Tänak improved the balance of his Ford Fiesta by modifying the anti-roll bar while Breen was overjoyed with his C3’s pace. Not quite as happy was Sébastien Ogier. As road opener he endured the worst of the loose gravel, but was only 4.8sec off the lead in his Fiesta in fifth.
Paddon dropped to sixth after his Hyundai i20 stopped 2km before the finish of Caminha with an electrical problem. He reset the system before continuing.
Team-mate Thierry Neuville climbed to seventh, having adapted his driving to the Portuguese roads. “We have to drive much more sideways in this rally. The roads are wider and we have to slide the car. It’s not the driving I like,” said the Belgian.
Dani Sordo was eighth, the Spaniard unhappy as his i20 was sliding too much at the rear. Mads Østberg was ninth with Elfyn Evans completing the leaderboard after losing time with a rear right puncture.
Stéphane Lefebvre lost more than two minutes after rolling his C3 in Caminha. The Frenchman punctured two tyres but carried only one spare and drove Ponte de Lima with a rear flat. He conceded another four minutes.