Sebastien Ogier ended today’s second leg of Rally de Portugal with a comfortable 34.8sec lead over Volkswagen team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
The Polo R drivers dominated this longest leg of the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. Latvala won the opening two stages before Ogier claimed the remaining four tests.
Higher temperatures and rocky gravel roads in the hills above the Algarve made the going tough. Conditions were at their worst this afternoon when the morning stages were repeated and drivers had to manage their tyres on roads worn to the bedrock.
Ogier was still handicapped by the virus which has affected him for the past two weeks. “I started to feel a bit better this afternoon,” he said. “I think I saved my tyres better than the others. It was a good day but tomorrow has two long stages so it’s going to be tough as well.”
Ogier’s closest challenger yesterday was Dani Sordo but the Spaniard retired his Citroen DS3 on today’s opening stage. “I misunderstood a pace note. After a small crest the car slid wide onto the loose. At the end of the corner was a small tree and we hit it with the rear wheel which broke,” he said.
Latvala climbed to second, getting to grips with the Polo R for the first time this season. “It’s the first day this year when I have been smiling,” said the Finn, whose only problem was a slow puncture at the end of the last stage.
Mikko Hirvonen completes the podium places in a Citroen DS3, 1min 08.5sec behind Ogier. “It was so rough and so hot that the tyres were at their limit this afternoon. I don’t have any new tyres for either of tomorrow’s loops so that will slow me,” he said.
Thierry Neuville restarted behind Hirvonen but the Belgian retired his Ford Fiesta RS in the opening stage after hitting a rock and damaging the suspension.
It promoted Evgeny Novikov’s Fiesta RS into fourth, but the young Russian is 4min 23.9sec from the lead. He had suspension problems this afternoon and was frustrated at being unable to match the pace of those ahead.
Nasser Al-Attiyah had a troublefree day to hold fifth, his Fiesta RS almost two minutes behind Novikov and a minute ahead of Andreas Mikkelsen’s Polo R.
Seventh is Dennis Kuipers’ Fiesta RS with Esapekka Lappi’s WRC-2 category Skoda Fabia S2000, Khalid Al Qassimi’s Citroen DS3 and Martin Prokop’s Fiesta RS completing the leaderboard.
A broken rear differential sent Prokop tumbling from sixth, while Michal Kosciuszko dropped out of the top 10 after losing 11 minutes when his Mini JCW stopped with electrical problems in the penultimate stage.
Tomorrow’s final leg covers four stages and 147.64km, including two passes over the monster 52.30km Almodovar test.