Ott Tänak leads Rally of Portugal over Kalle Rovanperä after Friday morning’s loop as Takamoto Katsuta was sidelined with a mechanical problem.
Katsuta had been equal fourth overall with Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä after two Rally of Portugal stages, but had rushed away from the end of both of the stages.
It turned out to be an alternator problem, and Katsuta and co-driver Aaron Johnston were forced to park up close to the start of SS3 Arganil, missing their start time of 11.25am. Despite their best efforts, the pair were not able to continue.
Up front, Tänak had stormed into the lead on the previous stage – usurping his M-Sport team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet who won SS1.
But M-Sport’s stranglehold on the rally was broken on SS3 as Toyota’s Rovanperä set the pace – a positive sign after struggling so much with his Yaris on the previous test.
“We changed something now and it seems to be a bit better,” Rovanperä said. “But the afternoon will be tricky when we go onto the hard tires and it’ll be rough.”
Tänak actually extended his overall lead despite losing 2.8 seconds to Rovanperä, because Dani Sordo dropped even more time – 5.9s – to fastest.
That was enough to promote Rovanperä to second overall, 0.6s ahead of Sordo.
“The hard tire was not working very well,” Sordo said.
“It was a lot of loose and I didn’t have a lot of traction. But anyway it was nice, I was enjoying a lot the stage.”
Loubet, who was third before SS3, has now slipped all the way down to sixth after losing 16.4s to fastest on the stage.
There were dramatic scenes at stage-end as Loubet shot past the stop-line to stop the car and jumped out to get a fire extinguisher.
Throwing his glove down onto the ground, the erstwhile rally leader was evidently frustrated.
More had been expected from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Esappeka Lappi on Friday morning, but the duo lie fourth and seventh overall respectively.
Fourth on the road Neuville was confused as to why he was dropping time.
“Another good stage for us to be honest,” he said. “Feeling is good, we can’t do more.
“I don’t know if the road is getting more loose and we lose traction, or we need to find more performance because I feel I’m doing well.”
Lappi, who dropped 16.8s to the fastest time, added: “To be honest I don’t know. I’m quite surprised, I thought it was fine. The tire choice was a bit of a mistake from my side, but I thought I did a good stage.”
Championship leader Elfyn Evans, and Loubet’s Puma, split the two i20 N Rally1s overall. Evans is 3.4s behind Neuville and 8.5s clear of Lappi.
Loubet is 0.8s behind Evans.
“Feeling was a bit better to be honest but… yeah, it’s not enough to really challenge or trouble the guys behind,” Evans said.
“Nothing’s going on it’s just not working quite as well as we’d like.”