Kalle Rovanperä took the first scalp in an intra-team battle for Rally Portugal victory, increasing his lead over Elfyn Evans with a stage win on Felgueiras.
Championship leader Rovanperä took the lead late on Saturday and has continued to build his advantage since, putting another 2.7s on Evans to increase his advantage to 8.4s.
Evans conceded he wasn’t on top form on Sunday’s first stage, saying that he didn’t that that he “was quite as on it as the run from last year,” on the Felgueiras test.
Toyota’s 1-2-3 is now looking precarious, as Takamoto Katsuta in the junior car was reeled in by Dani Sordo.
Despite Sordo thinking that he “didn’t drive very good” on Felgueiras, he drove will enough to carve 4.5s out of Katsuta’s advantage. Only 1.2s separates them with four stages remaining.
After a big push on Amarante the day before, Thierry Neuville had initially been hopeful he could apply pressure and target the final podium position.
But his rate of time gain was not enough on Felgueiras to make a serious indent on Katsuta and Sordo ahead, admitting he was “probably a bit too cautious”. While he edged closer, the gap is still a fairly hefty 29.1s to Katsuta in the final podium place.
Pierre-Louis Loubet’s seventh position is now under threat from Ott Tänak’s Hyundai, as the gap between them shrank to 12.3s.
A strategy gamble on Saturday afternoon that failed to pay off – Loubet needed rain and he didn’t get enough of it – left him without fresh soft tires for the final loop, leaving him struggling for grip and 13.9s off Tänak’s pace.
But Loubet was unmoved at the prospect of dropping to eighth place.
“The time is not important,” he said. “We know we can fight with him. We won’t go to the end. The result, seventh or eighth, is not important. We just need to build the confidence for the future. So the target is to do a fast recce now.”
Only the lead Toyotas were faster than Tänak on Felgueiras, a mildly surprising outcome as he complained his Hyundai had a gear change issue, with the throttle not cutting automatically on flatshifts.
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 5m57.00s
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +2.7s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +4.9s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) + 6.5s
- Sébastien Ogier/Benjamin Veillas (Toyota) +6.6s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +8.7s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +11.5s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +12.8s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +13.2s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +16.8s
Leading Positions after SS17
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) 3h19m43.7s
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +8.4s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +2m03.3s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +2m04.5s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +2m32.4s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +4m13.2s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +4m33.5s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +4m45.8s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +7m21.1s
- Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Hyundai) +10m35.9s