Teemu Suninen resisted a brief charge from reigning WRC3 champion Yohan Rossel to top the WRC2 class on Rally Portugal heading into the final day.
Hyundai’s lead driver in the WRC2 support category had inherited the lead on Saturday morning from Andreas Mikkelsen, who’d retired on Friday night with an engine problem that his Toksport team couldn’t remedy.
Suninen started strongly with a stage win on the day-opening Vieira do Minho test but started to fall back thereafter, with Rossel winning the Amarante test to cut the deficit to only 9.2 seconds.
But there was good reason for Suninen’s struggles. Having suffered a double puncture on Friday, which had cost him nearly a minute and also the rally lead after sprinting away early on, he had picked six used tires for the first loop on Saturday.
Come the afternoon, with fresh boots on his i20 N Rally2, he flew. Three wins from three on the gravel stages meant he regained all his lost ground from the morning and then some, building his advantage back up to 30.5s.
That gap had climbed as high as 32.3s but with running order a huge factor in the day-closing Porto superspecial, Rossel took advantage of starting behind Suninen to claw back a handful of seconds.
Oliver Solberg had started the day in fourth after suffering heavily with dust ingress and a slow puncture aboard his Hyundai on Friday, with Kajetan Kajetanowicz and the final podium position firmly in his sights.
A stage win on Cabeceiras de Basto hinted that Solberg would inevitably catch and pass the three-time European Rally champion for third.
But before he could bridge the gap, he was out of the rally altogether with a broken steering arm on the second pass of Vieira do Minho.
Solberg’s vanishing act from the WRC classification has left Kajetanowicz all alone in the standings, a minute and a half behind Rossel but four minutes up on fellow Škoda Fabia Rally2 evo runner Chris Ingram.
Miko Marczyk rounds out the top five.
One of the closest battles currently at play in WRC is also the fight for Portuguese national championship honours between two-time Production WRC champion Armindo Araújo and reigning Portuguese champion Ricardo Teodósio.
Both have rocketed up the order from 11th and 9th respectively at the start of the day to fight for sixth place in WRC2, separated by just 12.3s.