Elfyn Evans is refusing to let Ott Tänak run away at the head of Rally Portugal, becoming the first driver to beat Hyundai’s rally leader to a stage win on Saturday.
Evans was held to a 19.2-second deficit by Tänak after 11 of Portugal’s 20 stages, and had Dani Sordo breathing down his neck too; just 6.1s back as the crews started the Saturday afternoon tests.
The Toyota driver duly gapped Sordo by 4.3s on SS12 to cement his second position and managed to grab 0.6s from Tänak too to reduce the leader’s advantage down to 18.6s.
“The feeling was pretty OK, mixed tires on the car but really tried to be as clean and fast as possible,” said Evans.
Tänak was unfazed, saying: “The stages are a bit rough so for sure this will keep us awake. It was a clean run and that’s all we need at the moment.”
Sordo – who is now 10.4s adrift of Evans and 29s away from the lead – was ultimately powerless despite “doing my maximum”, his post-stage comments on Evans summing up the result rather succinctly.
“He’s fast, eh?”
Sébastien Ogier’s quest to overhaul Takamoto Katsuta was successful on SS12 as he went 7.7s than his Toyota team-mate to grab fourth place by 7.2s overall.
Katsuta said: “This one I’m not so confident in my driving and my pacenotes but I knew this after first pass so I took it easy on this one and Amarante [SS14] let’s say I try and take a good time again, so let’s see.”
Ogier meanwhile was content but concerned by his growing deficit to the top three, which now stands at 40.3s.
“The only problem is now we are quite far back from the podium so it’s hard to fight back I believe,” he said.
Kalle Rovanperä was on a level footing with his rivals in terms of tires after spending the morning frustrated with three hards and one soft compound tire on his Yaris WRC.
He took four hard Pirellis and two softs for the afternoon loop – like all of his team-mates and the two remaining Hyundai drivers – while the M-Sport cars reversed that strategy, taking four softs and two hards.
“We are opening the road so we are using the tires less than the other drivers but let’s see if it works for us,” reasoned eighth-placed Adrien Fourmaux.
His M-Sport team-mate Gus Greensmith added: “We decided to take a bit of a gamble, it looks risky but I do believe I can make it work,” suggesting that he might be on the hunt for his first ever World Rally Championship stage win.
As for Rovanperä, his pace improved from the morning and he edged Greensmith’s Fiesta by 4.2s, nudging the gap between them in sixth and seventh up to 22.8s. His deficit to Katsuta ahead stands at 33.5s.
“The balance is always quite OK on the second loop, I really don’t struggle with the car so much when it’s second loop conditions so it was OK,” he commented at stage end.
Teemu Suninen’s relentless pursuit of Esapekka Lappi has begun to bear fruit, although the Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver only managed to steal 0.1s from the WRC2 leader on SS12.
Both were eclipsed on SS12 by Hyundai’s Oliver Solberg by 1.4s.
“Yeah, not bad now. Now it helps when you know the road, you can push as hard as the others,” Solberg said, referencing the fact this weekend is his first on Rally Portugal.
Suninen, who is 13.9s behind Lappi in 10th place overall, added: “It’s getting crazy now, it’s a matter of who doesn’t run into problems.”
Nikolay Gryazin, who had started Saturday in the thick of the WRC2 battle, ran into turbo problems with his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 in the morning, significantly blunting his attack.
The former Hyundai junior slid to fifth place after incurring 1m20s worth of penalties due to checking into the SS12 time control eight minutes late.
That therefore promoted Solberg up to third in WRC2 and Mads Østberg up to fourth.
1 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 12m36.6s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.6
3 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +4.3s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +5s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +5.8s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +10s
Leading positions after SS12
1 Tänak/Järveoja 2h25m39.5s
2 Evans/Martin +18.6s
3 Sordo/Rozada +29s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +1m09.3s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +1m16.5s
6 Rovanperä/Halttunen +1m50s
7 Greensmith/Patterson +2m12.8s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +3m55.2s
9 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Volkswagen) +6m58.1s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +7m12s