Ogier responds to Tänak push in Portugal lead battle

A big time from Sébastien Ogier on Amarante helped quell Ott Tänak's resistance

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Sébastien Ogier has continued to hold Ott Tänak at bay in the battle for Rally Portugal victory, leading the Hyundai driver by 11.9 seconds with only Sunday’s four stages to go.

A chaotic morning shook up the order. The first pass of Montim featured Kalle Rovanperä rolling out of the lead and Thierry Neuville damaging his car after spinning into a bank, which Tänak took full advantage of and eventually took the lead after the first pass of Amarante.

But a slow puncture on Paredes, which was later discovered to be due to a cut in the sidewall of his right-rear tire, set him back 13.8s relative to Ogier.

Tänak came out guns blazing on the afternoon loop, winning the afternoon runs of Felgueiras and Montim to carve 5.8s out of Ogier’s lead.

If somebody had told us on Thursday night that we would be third on Saturday evening, I wouldn’t have believed it. Thierry Neuville

It didn’t take long for Ogier to turn the tide: he set a record-breaking stage time on Amarante, pulling 4.1s back on Tänak, who had been struggling with his engine overrunning under deceleration: “I lift off but the engine wants to go,” explained the 2019 world champion. “It looks like it’s more interested [in pushing] than I am.”

Championship leader Thierry Neuville provisionally banked 13 points for his title bid by finishing Saturday in this place. His return to the podium places was aided by Takamoto Katsuta, who’d hit a bank and broken the right-rear suspension on his Toyota during the first pass of Amarante.

“If somebody had told us on Thursday night that we would be third on Saturday evening, I wouldn’t have believed it,” said Neuville at the end of the day.

On paper, Neuville was battling team-mate Dani Sordo for the final podium position after Katsuta’s demise but in reality, Sordo was set to slow down on the final stage of the day if needed to boost Neuville’s points haul.

When asked if Sordo would be free to take third place away from the championship leader, Neuville replied: “Not by the end of the day but he’s gonna try to be in front at some point.”


Adrien Fourmaux pushed hard to try and catch Dani Sordo but couldn't quite bridge the gap

In the end, Sordo failed that mission, instead capitulating 12s on Paredes and falling back into the clutches of the chasing Ford Puma of Adrien Fourmaux.

M-Sport’s lead driver was left to rue his morning pass of Amarante, which he felt had cost him the chance of battling Sordo for fourth place.

“We wanted to put pressure on Dani all day but we have lost too much time this morning,” said Forumaux. “We were just staying close so that if something happens we can take a position before tonight.”

Elfyn Evans finished Saturday in a lonely sixth place, ceding seven points to his main title rival Neuville. There was nothing for the one-time Portugal winner to fight for on Saturday, having already lost almost a minute on the first day.

Toyota’s leading contender for the drivers’ championship remarked that his setup had gone from too much understeer to too much oversteer in the morning; by the afternoon, Evans still lacked confidence in the car underneath him.

Nikolay Gryazin leads the WRC2 classification but isn’t registered to score points for himself, only his team, so the maximum 25 points are currently being battled out between Jan Solans, Josh McErlean, and Yohan Rossel.

Gus Greensmith had inherited a healthy lead at Saturday lunchtime service when Rossel hit a rock and suffered a puncture on the first pass of Paredes. But that lead was short-lived; he went off the road and up a bank, beaching his Škoda Fabia RS Rally2 and retiring on the spot.

That handed a surprise lead to Motorsport Ireland junior Josh McErlean. But his lead was also short-lived; he’d taken six soft-compound tires, which weren’t suited to the later stages on Saturday afternoon.

Solans, with hards mixed into his selection, took advantage, swooping past McErlean on Paredes. Such was the extent of McErlean’s tire wear problems that he lost 3.9s to Solans on the short Lousada superspecial.

McErlean goes into Sunday only eight seconds behind Solans – but Rossel in the second Citroën is now lurking closely behind both of them, with only 3.6s in arrears to McErlean.