Jari-Matti Latvala held on to secure his first WRC win of 2015 in Rally Portugal, repelling the assault of Volkswagen teammate Sebastien Ogier over Sunday’s final three stages.
Latvala, who had crashed out of contention in each of the previous three rallies, was under pressure heading into the final day of the event, holding a slender advantage over a recovering Ogier of 9.5 seconds after Saturday’s stages.
The reigning champion was able to reduce the gap to 7.8s with a stage win in the first run through the Fafe test, but Latvala responded in the next stage to open up his advantage to 10.4s with just the powerstage finale, a second pass through Fafe, left to run.
Ogier laid down the gauntlet with the fastest time through the stage, securing three bonus points in the process, but Latvala held his nerve, going just 2.2s slower than his teammate to secure a sorely needed first win of the year by a margin of 9.2s.
“After the time I’ve had in the last three rallies, some people doubted I’d ever come back,” said a jubilant Latvala after crossing the line to secure his triumph.
“This has been one of the hardest periods of my career, so to win here is something really unique.”
Mikkelsen makes all-VW top 3
The Finn picked up two bonus points for his effort in the powerstage, with Andreas Mikkelsen claiming the remaining point and completing an all-Volkswagen podium, 28.6s off the pace in his first event with the 2015-spec Polo.
Mikkelsen started the day in fourth, but moved ahead of Meeke after SS14 as the Citroen driver suffered with a broken rear roll bar.
The Ulsterman came home to secure a distant fourth place, 48.7s behind Latvala, with Ott Tanak hanging on to a lonely fifth place, nearly two minutes off the pace in his M-Sport Fiesta.
Dani Sordo was the top Hyundai driver in sixth, narrowly holding on from a recovering Mads Ostberg, with Haydon Paddon, ex-Formula 1 star Robert Kubica and Martin Prokop completing the top 10 finishers.
Ogier continues to dominate the drivers’ standings, having won the first three rounds of the year. The Frenchman has racked up 105 points, with Mikkelsen now his nearest challenger on 63. Latvala is down in fifth on 46 points, behind Citroen duo Ostberg and Meeke.