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Stage report
WRC Rally Portugal

WRC Portugal: Ogier back in front after Tanak suffers puncture

Sebastien Ogier snatched the World Rally Championship Rally Portugal lead away from Hyundai’s Ott Tanak at the end of a dramatic Saturday morning, that included a roll for Kalle Rovanpera.

Toyota’s eight-time world champion Ogier inherited the lead after Rovanpera’s Stage 11 exit, only to lose the advantage to Tanak on the next test. However, a slow puncture for Tanak in stage 13 helped Ogier open up a 13.6s lead at the end of the loop.        

Rovanpera’s surprise exit, followed by a retirement for Toyota driver Takamoto Katsuta, elevated Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville into the final podium spot [+54.4s], ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo [+58.0s].

M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux enjoyed a trouble-free morning to sit fifth [+1m18.4s] ahead of the recovering Toyota of Elfyn Evans [+2m39.s], with leading WRC2 runner Gus Greensmith seventh [+6m21.6s].

Friday’s blazing sunshine was replaced by overcast and humid conditions on Saturday when the crews headed to the day’s first stage [Stage 10 Felgueiras 8.81km].

Rally leader Rovanpera started to stamp to his authority on the event by delivering a blistering time that none of his rivals could match. Benefitting from set-up tweaks to his Toyota overnight, the Finn posted a time 4.2s faster than Tanak, but more importantly was 5.7s quicker than rival Ogier.

The effort transformed his overnight one-second lead into a 6.7s margin over Ogier, who admitted he was too careful in the stage.

Tanak’s impressive effort helped the Hyundai driver leapfrog Katsuta into third overall, 2.9s behind Ogier.

Championship leader Neuville also gained a position, moving into fifth overall after beating Hyundai team-mate Sordo by 6.7s.

However, the rally was turned on its head in what proved to be a particularly slippery stage 11 [Montim, 8.69km] as several drivers were caught out by the conditions.

Rovanpera’s victory hopes were brought to a premature end following a spectacular roll. The Finn lost the rear of his GR Yaris in a fast right-hander and clouted a tree, which pitched the car into a roll before the car eventually came to rest on its side up against a tree. Rovanpera and co-driver Jonne Halttunen emerged from the incident unharmed.

WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg was first to pass Rovanpera’s stricken car and barely 100 metres further up the road the Swede lost control of his Toksport Skoda resulting in a series of rolls. Solberg and co-driver Elliott Edmondson were able to clamber out of the car.

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Ogier won stage 11 [Montim, 8.69km] by 0.5s from Hyundai’s Ott Tanak to open up a 3.4s lead from the Estonian following Rovanpera’s exit.

Katsuta moved back into third as a result with championship leader Neuville fourth having leapfrogged team-mate Sordo.

The stage proved to be incredibly slippery with Toyota’s Evans the first of a number of drivers to hit trouble. The Welshman, recovering from a puncture and a pacenote issue yesterday, suffered a spin after clipping a bank at a low-speed corner.

Katsuta also dropped time to an error at the same corner before briefly stalling his Toyota.

Neuville was also caught out by the conditions as the Belgian encountered two moments during the stage. Neuville drifted wide through a left-hander and clipped a bank and lost some time to a stall. A further mistake ripped the front bumper and splitter from his i20 N.

The drama went up another notch in the rally’s longest stage Amarante [ stage 12, 37.24km]. The battle for the victory became a two-driver contest after Katsuta became the latest to hit trouble. The Japanese driver suffered an impact damaging his rear suspension that forced him to stop 10.7km into the stage.

All eyes swung to the battle between Ogier and Tanak at the front which went in the favour of the latter. Tanak produced his best drive of the rally to date to claim a stunning stage win as the Hyundai driver took 3.6s out Ogier. It was enough to become the fifth leader of the rally so far, by 0.2s from the Frenchman.

Sordo set the third fastest time, some 15.4s adrift of Tanak, to close to within 2.3s of team-mate Neuville in the fight for third overall. The damage picked up at the previous test did hamper Neuville’s ability to turn his Hyundai, requiring more use of the handbrake.

Already hampered by road position, Evans’ struggles continued as he dropped a further 24.1s, while M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster fared even worse losing more than six minutes to a mysterious mechanical issue on his Ford Puma that necessitated two stops in the test.

The rally lead changed hands after the morning’s final test as a right rear slow puncture cost Tanak 13.8s to Ogier, who won Stage 13 [Paredes, 16.09km], retaking the lead in the process.

A puncture for Rossel also gifted Greensmith the lead in the WRC2.  

Five more stages await the crews this afternoon. 

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