Sat 11 May 2024

Chaotic Saturday puts Ogier in line for record Portugal win

Sébastien Ogier stands on the cusp of surpassing Markku Alén’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal record - providing he can maintain his lead over Hyundai Motorsport rival Ott Tänak on the event’s final day tomorrow (Sunday).

A tumultuous Saturday at the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship’s fifth round wreaked havoc among some of the series’ top drivers, reshuffling the leaderboard and granting Ogier an 11.9-sec overnight lead.

The Frenchman’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team began this penultimate leg with all guns blazing, locking out the podium after a near-perfect opening day. However, their fortunes took a dive early this morning when Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta both faltered on the brutal gravel terrain.

Overnight leader Rovanperä looked poised to tighten his grip on the top spot after blitzing the Felgueiras opener, but he misjudged a right-hander in Montim shortly afterwards and rolled out of contention. Katsuta’s exit was less dramatic but equally devastating: a rearward impact shattered his GR Yaris Rally1 car’s suspension as the Japanese driver battled for third.

Toyota’s hopes rested on Ogier’s shoulders. He tussled for the lead with Tänak and briefly relinquished the position on Amarante 1 before going back in front when the Estonian nursed a deflated tyre in the following stage.

Although Tänak maintained the pressure with benchmark times over the first two stages of the repeated afternoon loop, Ogier responded with a brace of stage wins to widen the gap.

Victory for Ogier on Sunday would be his sixth in Portugal. At present he jointly tops the event’s roll of honour with Finnish legend Markku Alén, known for his dominance with Fiat and Lancia in the 1970s and 80s.

“It's been a good day,” said Ogier. “A tricky one, we didn't expect so many things happening today. Unfortunately on Toyota’s side it was not a perfect day. For me it was good, but we lost two cars.

“We have to try and finish the job tomorrow now,” he added.

The drama up ahead brought good news for Thierry Neuville, who ended the day 59.5sec behind team-mate Tänak having climbed from sixth to third. With main title rival Elfyn Evans languishing in sixth, Neuville is poised to extend his championship lead and his Saturday standing will earn him 13 points providing he completes Super Sunday.

Neuville overtook Dani Sordo in the first stage of the day but the Spaniard kept touch with his colleague, ending the day 14.2sec further back to make it three Hyundais in the top four.

Behind Sordo by only 7.3sec was M-Sport Ford hotshot Adrien Fourmaux, who held a comfortable buffer of almost two minutes to Evans. Evans struggled to get into a rhythm with his GR Yaris, and an early spin exacerbated his challenges.

Rally2 cars filled the remainder of the leaderboard, with Nikolay Gryazin sitting seventh in his Citroën C3. Jan Solans was the first of the WRC2-registered drivers while Josh McErlean and Yohan Rossel completed the top 10.

Starts: Thursday, July 18, 2024 at 4:31:00 AM
Starts: Friday, July 26, 2024 at 7:00:00 AM
Starts: Saturday, July 27, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM