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Stage report
WRC Rally Portugal

WRC Portugal: Ogier responds to Tanak challenge to lead into final day

Sebastien Ogier responded to a challenge from Ott Tanak on Saturday afternoon to lead Rally Portugal into the final day of the fifth round of the World Rally Championship.

The eight-time world champion claimed four of the day’s nine stages, including two of the afternoon tests, to fend off a charging Tanak.

Ogier headed to service with a 11.9s lead over Tanak having started the day one second behind Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanpera, who rolled out of the lead on the morning’s stage 11. Tanak’s strong run was rewarded by 15 provisional championship points - three fewer than Ogier under the new system.

Championship leader Thierry Neuville held on to third [+1m11.4s] for Hyundai to pick up 13 valuable championship points, ahead of team-mate Dani Sordo [+1m25.6s] who collected 10 points.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux enjoyed a strong run to put himself firmly in the fight for fourth [+1m32.9s] and picked up eight points, while title contender Elfyn Evans ended the day a distant sixth [+3m23.8s], pocketing six points.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta retired from third on Saturday morning with damaged suspension. A mechanical issue pushed M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster outside of the top 10.

Tanak started Saturday afternoon on the front foot as the head-to-head with Ogier developed into an intense fight for the rally lead.

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: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The second pass through the now rutted Felgueiras, 8.81km test seemed to suit Tanak as the Hyundai driver claimed a second stage win, following his stage 12 success. Tanak, who described the road conditions as “really perfect”, managed to take 3.2s out of Ogier’s lead to reduce the 13.6s deficit to 10.4s. Ogier hinted that he was not at his maximum.

Neuville came the closest to beating his team-mate Tanak on the test after falling 2.4s shy. The Belgian, now driving a repaired i20N after incurring front end damage in the morning, moved 4.2s clear of the third Hyundai of Sordo in the battle for third.

There was however drama in the fight for the WRC2 as the lead changed hands once again. Class leader Gus Greensmith drifted offline at a slow right hander, resulting in his Skoda becoming beached in the sandy bank. The incident handed the class lead to Ireland’s Josh McErlean.

Stage 15, Montim, witnessed Tanak step up his pursuit of Ogier by posting another stage-winning time, although the Estonian felt his effort wasn’t anything “special”. Tanak clawed 2.6s back from Ogier from a committed run through the test that caught out Rovanpera and Oliver Solberg in the morning.

Ogier admitted that his GR Yaris wasn’t working “super well” in the stage and declared that Stage 16 would offer an opportunity to attack.

M-Sport’s Fourmaux, sitting in a comfortable fifth overall, ran Tanak close at the top of the timing screen, reaching the stage end 2.1s slower. The Frenchman was a tenth faster than Neuville, who in turn was 1.6s faster than Sordo. The latter hinted that he had been told by the team to hold his position.

Ogier delivered on his stage 16 [Amarante, 37.24km] promise in what proved to be hot and punishing for soft tyres. A threat of rain resulted in all Rally1 crews, except Evans, taking two hard and four soft compound tyres.

Ogier’s decision to save his rubber in the previous stages paid dividends, resulting in a perfect response to Tanak. Ogier reached the stage end 4.1s faster than his rival, who reported a throttle issue.

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Adrien Fourmaux, Alexandre Coria, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The gap in the fight for third overall between Neuville and Sordo was reduced to 1.5s after the latter eclipsed the former by 4.3s.

“It’s far too hot for those tyres. We were expecting rain. I was punishing those tyres all the way to the end of the last stage. It’s not good,” said Neuville.

Ogier continued his push setting a fastest stage time on stage 17 [Paredes, 16.09km] to extend his rally lead out to 13.5s, just a tenth shy of the margin he held at the start of the afternoon.

Tanak dropped 1.6s in the test after reaching the stage end fourth fastest behind Neuville and Fourmaux.

It proved to be a difficult run for Sordo who couldn’t match the pace of his Hyundai team-mates. The Spaniard described his effort as “very bad” having conceded 11.6s that put him only 9s ahead of Fourmaux, who had a sniff a fourth overall.

Tanak had one last bite into Ogier’s lead after edging the Frenchman by 1.6s in their side-by-side battle in the Stage 18 Lousada super special, held in front of a vociferous crowd that had gathered at the rallycross venue.

Neuville managed to beat Sordo in their head-to-head battle by 1.1s, while the stage was won by Fourmaux, who closed to within 7.3s of Sordo in the fight for fourth overall.

In WRC2, Jan Solans snatched the class lead from McErlean with the pair split by 8s.

The rally concludes on Sunday after four stages, comprising of 62.18 kilometres.

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