Dani Sordo extended his Rally Portugal lead over team-mate Ott Tänak, as Hyundai cemented its early lock-out of the podium positions with Thierry Neuville in third.
Sordo, competing with new co-driver Borja Rozada for the first time this weekend, led the rally by 3.2s after stage two and found another 3.5s over his rivals to lead Tänak by 6.7s.
“I am happy,” he said. “This stage was slippery, I didn’t do very, very well but looks like the time is not so bad.”
Asked about Rozada’s performance, Sordo added: “He’s very good. OK I didn’t have nothing bad with Carlos [del Barrio], both do a really good job but he is adapting himself and at the moment is at a really high level.”
While all drivers took four soft and one hard compound tire, Tänak went against the grain and fitted his hard Pirelli on SS2 and not SS3 like the majority of the pack. Sordo and Gus Greensmith opted not to use their hard at all.
The 2019 world champion Tänak confessed he didn’t know whether that was a stronger tactic, but did at least end the morning in second, 3.3s clear of third-placed Neuville despite feeling he was “fighting” his i20 Coupe WRC throughout the loop.
“Hopefully [in the] afternoon we will find a bit better feeling,” he said.
Neuvile – who was third quickest on all three stages, having previously finished each of the first three rounds of the World Rally Championship third – was “quite satisfied” with his morning despite refraining from a maximum push on SS3 as he “just didn’t feel it”.
He is exactly 10s adrift of his rally leading team-mate Sordo with a 7.6s advantage over Elfyn Evans in fourth place.
Evans moved up a spot from fifth as his team-mate Kalle Rovanperä “struggled with the car way too much” on the loop’s final test.
The 20-year-old slid three places on the stage to seventh overall.
“I don’t know why [I’m struggling],” Rovanperä said.
“Now without service we have to see what we can do to get the car better but for sure it’s bad, it’s really bad.”
Toyota junior Takamoto Katsuta rounded out a strong morning in fifth overall, a mere 1.4s shy of the leading Yaris WRC of Evans. The Japanese is 19s behind Sordo’s leading Hyundai.
Rovanperä wasn’t the biggest loser on SS3 as M-Sport’s Greensmith – who set the joint-third-fastest time on the opening stage – collected a rear-left puncture that cost him 51.2s to the stage winner Sordo.
It means the Briton now trails the World Rally Car pack in ninth, 1m02s off the rally lead.
Things were brighter for M-Sport team-mate Adrien Fourmaux, who matched Evans for the fourth-quickest time on SS3 and vaulted from ninth to sixth overall on one stage.
Asked what he had learned throughout the morning, he said: “I am using sometimes too much the line in Tarmac round and I understand now I need to be more in the lines of the drivers to keep the grip and the traction all the time.
“I need a tidy drive to improve my pace but I feel that one was a good time.”
Sébastien Ogier, the first driver onto the stages courtesy of his status as championship leader, languishes in eighth overall. He lost position to Fourmaux on SS3, although he did overhaul the hampered Greensmith.
Ogier’s pace deficit to Neuville, just one car behind him on the road, was telling as he lost 10.9s to the Hyundai on the Arganil test alone. The seven-time champion is now over half a minute behind the lead.
A resigned Ogier said: “Usually it’s worse in the afternoon so keep trying, there’s not much I can do.”
Following Pierre-Louis Loubet’s retirement on the previous stage, the WRC2 battle has spilled into the overall top 10.
Currently it’s Esapekka Lappi who occupies 10th and therefore leads the class, becoming the third different driver from three stages to do so on Friday in Portugal.
Lappi heads fellow Volkswagen Polo pilot Nikolay Gryazin by 2.7s but M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen is close too, just 5.5s adrift of Lappi. The M-Sport driver was robbed of time on SS3, however. after getting caught in dust left by Mads Østberg who stopped and changed a puncture.
“It was full of dust and I couldn’t see anything,” Suninen bemoaned. “I couldn’t see, I couldn’t drive.”
Jan Solans, the 2019 Junior WRC Champion, leads WRC3 in his Citroën C3 Rally2 by a handy 10.3s over Toksport Škoda driver Emil Lindholm.
Pepe López led after the opening stage but retired for the day on SS2 with suspension trouble on his Fabia Rally2 evo.
Chris Ingram is third overall after three stages ahead of Croatia winner Kajetan Kajetanowicz, while soccer coach André Villas-Boas made it through the morning successfully in 21st place in class.
Jon Armstrong kept up his strong form to lead the Junior WRC ranks after three stages, eight seconds ahead of Northern Irish compatriot William Creighton, who is on just his second WRC event.
Mārtiņš Sesks is another 2.2s behind in third, 5.1s up on SS1 winner Sami Pajari. The top four Ford Fiesta Rally4s are covered by just 15.3s.
There is no midday service on Friday, so instead drivers will head to a tire fitting zone before a repeat pass of the first three stages.
1 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) 11m54.4s
2 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3.5s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +4.4s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +7.3s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +7.3s
6 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +8.4s
Leading positions after SS3
1 Sordo/Rozada 33m58.5s
2 Tänak/Järveoja +6.7s
3 Neuville/Wydaeghe +10s
4 Evans/Martin +17.6s
5 Katsuta/Barritt +19s
6 Fourmaux/Jamoul +23.6s
7 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +26.1s
8 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +31s
9 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +1m02s
10 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Movisport SRL Volkswagen) +1m44.4s