Welshman Elfyn Evans was the somewhat surprising leader of the 54th Vodafone Rally of Portugal after a further seven thrilling special stages on Saturday.
Ott Tänak had been the dominant force for much of the day, the Estonian pedalling his Hyundai i20 Coupé to a string of four victories on five gravel stages. But the 2019 World Champion damaged his rear suspension on the second run through Amarante and was forced to throw in the towel several kilometres from the stage finish.
Evans had been applying pressure on his rival all day and followed up a fastest time on the 12th stage with a second success on the special where Tänak was sidelined to open up a cushion of 10.7 seconds over Dani Sordo at the night halt. It could have been even more had the Spaniard not delivered a stunning performance in the Porto super special to claw back 5.7 seconds.
What promised to be such a terrific weekend for the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team after their performances on Friday quickly evaporated as Saturday progressed. Thierry Neuville withdrew before the afternoon loop to enable team technicians to repair his car for a full assault at Sunday’s Power Stage and then Tänak’s retirement stunned team management.
Hyundai’s consolation was Sordo’s firm grip on second position at the night halt, although seven-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier had managed to climb on to the podium at the end of the leg and was ominously placed to make a late challenge with soft compound tyres at his disposal on the final day. Ogier trailed Sordo by 53.5 seconds. Takamoto Katsuta had pushed the Frenchman hard during the afternoon and was a very close fourth in his Toyota Yaris.
The M-Sport Ford Fiestas of Adrien Fourmaux and Gus Greensmith moved up to fifth and sixth when Kalle Rovanperä was sidelined with technical issues on the road section to SS14, the Blue Oval pair swapping positions on the final stage when Greensmith was delayed with ongoing throttle issues.
Esapekka Lappi was the class leader of the FIA WRC2 field throughout the day in his Movisport Volkswagen Polo GTI and will take a 40.4-second cushion into the final leg over fellow Finn, M-Sport Ford Teemu Suninen. Turbo issues for Lappi’s teammate Nikolay Gryazin and a costly spin for Hyundai Motorsport N’s Oliver Solberg moved Mads Østberg in his TRT World Rally Team’s Citroën C3 up to third, the Norwegian even setting the second quickest time overall in SS15.
Citroën driver Yohan Rossel from France overhauled Poland’s Kajetan Kajetanowicz in FIA WRC3 after the second Amarante stage where the Škoda driver dropped 25 seconds. The duo were separated by just 2.1 seconds after SS14, with Brit Chris Ingram (Škoda) and Frenchman Nicolas Ciamin (Citroën) holding third and fourth.
Latvia’s Martin Sesks was a clear leader in FIA Junior WRC heading to the final spectator stage in Porto. Sami Pajari was second after Czech driver Martin Koči lost out on second place in SS12 and Jon Armstrong stopped in SS14.
Provisional results after Section 7
|1. Elfyn Evans (GBR) / Scott Martin (GBR)||Toyota Yaris WRC||3hr 07min 09.1sec|
|2. Dani Sordo (ESP) / Borja Rozada (ESP)||Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC||3hr 07min 19.8sec|
|3. Sébastien Ogier (FRA) / Julien Ingrassia (FRA)||Toyota Yaris WRC||3hr 08min 13.3sec|
|4. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN) / Daniel Barritt (GBR)||Toyota Yaris WRC||3hr 08min 14.8sec|
|5. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA) / Renaud Jamoul (FRA)||Ford Fiesta WRC||3hr 11min 30.9sec|
|6. Gus Greensmith (GBR) / Chris Patterson (GBR)||Ford Fiesta WRC||3hr 11min 37.3sec|
|7. Esapekka Lappi (FIN) / Janne Ferm (FIN)- WRC2||Volkswagen Polo Gti||3hr 15min 30.3sec|
|8. Teemu Suninen (FIN) / Mikko Markkula (FIN)||Ford Fiesta MkII||3hr 16min 10.7sec|
|9. Mads Østberg (NOR) / Torstein Eriksen (NO) – WRC2||Citroën C3||3hr 17min 55.7sec|
|10. Nikolay Gryazin (RAF) / Konstantin Alexsandrov (RAF)||Volkswagen Polo GTI||3hr 18min 10.2sec|
|11. Oliver Solberg (SWE) / Aaron Johnston (IRL)||Hyundai NG i20||3hr 18min 13.3sec|