Sébastien Ogier’s hopes of a record-breaking podium finish on Rally Portugal are over, retiring with a second puncture in two stages.
Reigning world champion Ogier had already suffered a puncture on the second pass of Góis, costing him over two minutes after pulling over to stop and change a wheel.
But with only one spare onboard his GR Yaris Rally1, a second puncture in as many stages on Arganil spelled the end for his rally.
With team-mate and rally leader Elfyn Evans running immediately behind him on the road, he initially pulled over and stopped to avoid leaving too much dust behind, then continued shortly after Evans sped past.
But he lasted only a couple of corners more, pulling over at the next access road and retiring.
Evans extended his lead over Thierry Neuville by 1.2s to seven seconds, with the lead Hyundai driver wringing every last drop of grip out of his original set of hard tires ahead of a swap to softs for the next stage, Mortágua.
“I have no tires anymore in the front,” said Neuville.
“I took it very steady in there because we have two new softs in the boot for the next one, which should be really good. But we need to keep some hards as well.”
Neuville now has to look behind him as much as ahead, as championship leader Kalle Rovanperä won the second pass of Arganil amid rough conditions.
While being first on the road had its drawbacks on the soft, loose gravel in the morning, the rough, rocky evolution of stages since Friday morning has swung momentum back to Toyota’s young gun.
“I’ve seen the tires of Kalle before the stage,” added Neuville. “They look much better than mine. We took 10 seconds off him, now we lost a bit, but we should be good for the last one.”
Ott Tänak joined Ogier in picking up a second puncture in consecutive stages, his rear-left becoming deflated. But instead of pulling over to change it as he had on Arganil, the 2019 world champion simply cruised to the finish, losing another minute and a half.
M-Sport’s best-placed driver after Loeb’s retirement from the lead continues to be Pierre-Louis Loubet, who held fourth despite a very conservative run aimed at preventing any punctures that had afflicted his rivals.
Loubet is now being caught by Dani Sordo, with the second Hyundai i20 Rally1 gaining 5.7s on the lead Puma.
Sordo leapfrogged fellow M-Sport runner Gus Greensmith on Arganil, who had also suffered a rear-left puncture. Unlike Ogier and Tänak he was able to push on, going only 16.9s off stage winner Rovanperä’s pace.
Takamoto Katsuta continues to hold seventh and is now within touching distance of Greensmith, with only 4.2s in arrears.
Craig Breen is the last car within a minute of the rally lead in eighth overall, 10.2s behind team-mate Greensmith.
Teemu Suninen’s run at the top of the WRC2 times came to an end on Arganil, dropping almost a minute to Toksport’s Andreas Mikkelsen with a rear-right puncture.
Hyundai’s new WRC2 team leader had won every stage in his class until the puncture. Such was his commanding performance, he lost only one place and now holds second in WRC2, 4.2s ahead of reigning WRC3 champion Yohan Rossel.
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 11m51.6s
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +4.6s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +5.2s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +5.8s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +8.0s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +12.5s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +13.7s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +16.9s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +27.1
- Andreas Mikkelsen/Torstein Eriksen (Škoda) +47.4s
Leading positions after SS7
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) 1h11m00.5s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +7.0s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +14.1s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +34.9s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +36.1s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +41.5s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +45.7s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +55.9s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +1m45.5s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3m25.2s