Elfyn Evans is one day away from a first World Rally Championship victory of the season on Rally Portugal although Dani Sordo is just 10.7 seconds behind after a dominant superspecial win.
The final stage of Saturday, Porto – Foz, was a three-lap blast around a man-made 0.7-mile circuit along the city’s beach-side streets.
Sordo set a scorching pace on the test, believing his expansive go-karting experience helped him, but all was not well with his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC.
“I didn’t want to stop the engine [before the stage] because I had some problems,” he remarked, “but I got a good feeling in the stage.”
Rally leader Evans gave up a dangerous 5.7s on the street stage, with Sordo winning the stage by a clear 4.3s over the next World Rally Car of Takamoto Katsuta.
“I’m shocked that Dani’s gone so strong in there,” Evans admitted, “but let’s see tomorrow, obviously still a tricky day but today went pretty well.”
Sébastien Ogier is third overnight but only has 1.5s in hand over Toyota junior Katsuta, who is on course for his best finish in the WRC.
Ogier stalled his Yaris WRC at one of the mandatory donuts but minimized his time loss to just a single second to Katsuta on the superspecial, ensuring he keeps his provisional podium place overnight.
“Tomorrow is important,” Ogier said. “A difficult day for us but still we are climbing a little bit.”
Katsuta added: “I’m pretty happy to be honest, it was a very tough day. I am here and this is the biggest things, I learned a lot of things also so that’s the main thing.”
Despite the Porto-Foz stage only offering 2.08 miles of competition, that was still enough for Adrien Fourmaux – who set the same stage time as Ogier – to leapfrog his M-Sport team-mate Gus Greensmith into fifth position.
Greensmith made a mess of his first donut around a concrete bollard, possibly because he was running his Ford Fiesta WRC in road mode – due to his intermittent throttle issue – which provides significantly less power than in fully-fledged stage mode.
He then elected to switch between the two modes on his next two donuts to give him more power, but he still lost 14.1s to Fourmaux and therefore heads into Saturday 6.4s back in sixth place.
“Extremely disappointing, but what can I do?” he said. “We’ll try and get the time back tomorrow.”
Esapekka Lappi leads WRC2 in seventh overall with his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, heading into Sunday with a 40.2s cushion over M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen.
Suninen had been a thorn in Lappi’s side earlier in the day but a punctured tire ruined his attack, leaving him to concentrate more on holding station than taking the ultimate risks for the win.
“[It was a ] bit of a shame we got a puncture on one tire and it was tricky to manage to the end of the loop but we are here, and can be happy for what we are doing here,” said Suninen.
Mads Østberg – who was a fine second fastest overall on Porto – Foz – is third in WRC2 and ninth overall, 14.5s clear of Nikolay Gryazin, who battled through a turbo problem in the morning.
Oliver Solberg is just outside the points in 11th overall and fifth in WRC2, lurking a mere 3.1s behind Gryazin’s VW in his Hyundai i20 R5.
1 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) 3m04.1s
2 Mads Østberg/Torstein Eriksen (TRT Citroën) +3.7s
3 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +4.3s
4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Volkswagen) +4.5s
5 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Movisport Volkswagen) +4.7s
6 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Hyundai) +5.1s
Leading positions after SS15
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +3h07m09.1s
2 Sordo/Rozada +10.7s
3 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +1m04.2s
4 Katsuta/Barritt +1m05.7s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +4m21.8s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +4m28.2s
7 Lappi/Ferm +8m21.2s
8 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +9m01.6s
9 Østberg/Eriksen +10m46.6s
10 Gryazin/Aleksandrov +11m01.1s