Volkswagen’s Jari-Matti Latvala leads the way by 11 seconds in Rally Portugal after Friday’s stages, while Sebastien Ogier languishes down in sixth after a tough opening loop.
Latvala became the third different leader of the rally after dominating the first run through the Viana do Castelo stage, seizing the advantage from teammate Andreas Mikkelsen in the process.
Mikkelsen, armed with a 2015-spec Polo for the first time, was quickest through Thursday evening’s superspecial, but lost the lead to surprise SS2 pacesetter Dani Sordo before regaining it with a solid run through SS3.
Latvala then became the fourth different winner in as many stages on SS4 to depose Mikkelsen, who also slipped behind Argentina winner Kris Meeke after giving away 11.4s to Latvala.
The Finn proceeded to stretch his advantage over Meeke from 6.3s to 11.1s over the remaining two stages of the day, also winning the latter, SS5 having been cancelled due to a forest fire.
Mikkelsen sits third, 16s away from the lead and just 1.8s ahead of the newly revised M-Sport Ford Fiesta of Ott Tanak.
The Estonian’s teammate Elfyn Evans was forced to retire with a fly-by-wire throttle issue towards the end of SS2, and will rejoin the action on Saturday under Rally2 rules.
Sordo is the best of the Hyundais in fifth, 21.8s off the lead after failing to maintain his early pace, while his teammate Thierry Neuville is a further 30 seconds back in ninth place having gambled on an alternate tyre strategy.
Ogier in trouble
Another driver to have tyre difficulties was Ogier, whose Volkswagen sustained a puncture on the opening stage of the day.
This meant that the Frenchman was forced to drive the remainder of the loop with one hard tyre and three softs, compromising his pace and leaving him down in seventh at the midday service.
Ogier recovered one position to move into sixth after the final two stages of the day, winning SS6, but is now 25.9s in arrears of teammate Latvala.