Portugal WRC: Latvala closes on Tanak through longest stage
Toyota’s dominance of the WRC's Rally Portugal continued on Saturday morning, but Jari-Matti Latvala has sliced rally leader Ott Tanak’s advantage to just 5.1 seconds.
Tanak’s morning was not plain-sailing, as the Estonian “f***ed” the brakes aboard his Yaris to lose nine seconds to SS8 winner Kris Meeke.
His lead gap was reduced from 17.3s to 11.3s over Latvala, but after some quick roadside repairs Tanak was back on the pace on SS9 Cabeceiras de Basto.
Latvala opted for two hard tyres whereas his teammates went for mediums all round, which began to pay dividends as the morning wore on.
Meeke had pulled three seconds from Latvala on Vieira do Minho, but Latvala then responded to claw back 2.7s with a stage win of his own, 0.4s up on Tanak.
Latvala really made his tactic count on the longest stage of the rally that concluded the morning, the 23-mile Amarante test. The Finn won the stage by 4.2s over Thierry Neuville, edging 13.3s clear of Meeke and gnawing 5.8s out of Tanak’s lead.
Neuville and Sebastien Ogier are having their own tussle over fourth position behind the trio of Toyotas, but are only 5.3s shy of the podium.
Ogier nicked 1.1s from Neuville on the morning’s first test, and grabbed another 0.7s on the next to wrestle fourth place off Neuville by a mere 0.2s. Neuville, however, responded on SS10 to head into the afternoon with a cushion of 1.9s over Ogier.
Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi are embroiled in a battle for sixth position. M-Sport’s Suninen began Saturday eight seconds ahead of his rival, but heads to service 9.1s adrift with his car “down on power” on SS10.
Gus Greensmith is eighth, having dropped to 36.3s behind Suninen as the Brit is still experiencing intermittent issues where his M-Sport Fiesta cuts out.
Elfyn Evans is back inside the top 10 and up to ninth after his throttle issues on Friday, ahead of WRC2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanpera.
Dani Sordo, who came into Friday in 48th overall, incurred several minutes in road penalties after dropping down the start order. The Hyundai was due to open the roads, but instead he slotted in between Ogier and teammate Neuville.
The Spaniard claimed the decision was made to “work on things on the car for Sardinia”, but it also theoretically benefited Neuville who would face a cleaner road than his rival Ogier.
Road-sweeping duties were therefore handed to the third Hyundai of Sebastien Loeb, who himself is well outside the top 10. However the nine-time champion received an order ahead of SS10 to incur a time penalty of his own in order to run behind Ogier and in front of Sordo.
Standings after SS10:
Portugal WRC: Tanak doubles lead over Latvala
Portugal WRC: Tanak's lead eroded while Latvala retires