Ott Tänak has completed a clean sweep of Saturday morning’s stages on Rally Portugal, leading Toyota’s Elfyn Evans by 19.2 seconds and Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo by 25.3s.
Saturday morning’s final stage, Amarante, is the longest of the rally at 23.56 miles but the gaps between the crews were again incredibly close.
Just 2.4s separated the leading trio on SS11 with Tänak taking the stage win by 0.9s; a contrast to his clear victories on the previous two. The 2019 world champion is now just one stage win away from his 250th in the World Rally Championship.
Asked how much fun he was having, Tänak said: “Definitely more than yesterday! The first loop has been quite OK, tried to be very, very smooth on this one to keep the tires alive and so far the feeling is OK.”
Second-placed Evans had looked vulnerable to being overhauled by Sordo on the early splits but responded later on to beat his Hyundai rival by 1.5s, stretching his overall cushion to 6.1s.
“To be honest I never did well on this stage in the past so I focused on being quite clean so it seemed to be working a bit better at least,” Evans said. “But yeah, a long afternoon still to go.”
Sébastien Ogier and Takamoto Katsuta’s all-Toyota battle for fourth took another swing on SS11 as Ogier closed right back up on Katsuta again.
The reigning world champion trailed his colleague by 10.2s ahead of Amarante and went 9.7s faster on the test, thus closing to just 0.5s behind as the crews head to service.
Ogier had moved ahead of Katsuta on the morning’s opener but threw the position away again after a half-spin on SS10.
“The morning has been not good for me, the two stages [before] I didn’t have the pace I wanted to have with some mistake with our choices this morning,” Ogier admited. “But we’ll keep fighting.”
Katsuta and Ogier are however both over a minute adrift of Tänak’s leading Hyundai.
Gus Greensmith survived a hairy moment within the first minute of the 24-minute stage, overcooking his entry into a sweeping right-hander and hanging the rear out wide on the edge of the turn.
The M-Sport driver outpaced Kalle Rovanperä for the second time on Saturday morning – despite “an issue stopping the car” – stealing nine seconds from the Toyota on Amarante to sit 18.6s behind sixth place.
Such was the length of the stage, Greensmith had forgotten about that early moment.
“To be honest I’d forgotten about that, you just reminded me!” he said in response to the stage end reporter’s question about it.
“I basically outbraked myself by 30, 40 meters and just buried the throttle and we were fine.”
Rovanperä was struggling with his tire selection for the third stage in succession. The 20-year-old opted for more hard compound tires than anybody else – other than Thierry Neuville – as he felt he’d used too many softs on Friday and wanted to save some for tomorrow’s five stages.
Neuville was due to start Amarante at 10:24am local time but the Hyundai driver checked in 16 minutes late, beginning at 10:42am.
Neuville, out of the running following his crash on Friday, therefore started the stage behind Ogier and Katsuta but ahead of Sordo, which conveniently gave his team-mate a cleaner road and simultaneously hindered the fourth and fifth-placed Toyotas.
“We have some issue and we couldn’t solve them so we decide to keep going,” was Neuville’s explanation.
Adrien Fourmaux, lying in a lonely eighth spot for M-Sport, became the road sweeper on Amarante after Neuville’s late check-in and did a handsome job to not leak too much time. Fourmaux dropped 8.1s to team-mate Greensmith and actually beat Rovanperä by 0.9s.
And despite the challenge of opening the road, he was doing so with a smile.
“It’s really difficult to open because there’s no line but it’s just really fun to drive, I was learning a lot,” he said. “It’s time to learn, I try different things.”
Esapekka Lappi continues to hold ninth overall and the lead in the WRC2 class in his Volkswagen Polo GTI R5, extending his 4.7s cushion over Teemu Suninen to 14s.
Lappi had originally begun the stage 14.5s clear of Suninen but Suninen was handed an amended time for SS3 – when he was caught behind a punctured Mads Østberg – that brought him closer into play.
It hasn’t stopped his former M-Sport team-mate from leading though, even if Lappi was slightly disillusioned by the lack of power available in his R5 car.
Asked how Amarante felt in his Polo, he laughed: “A bit boring on the uphill” in reference to the World Rally Cars he has driven over the last four years.
“At least I could watch the spectators as when you have a really steep uphill and it’s soft and a limited amount of power, it’s slowly climbing.”
Lappi’s team-mate Nikolay Gryazin has endured a miserable morning, struggling with a turbo problem in his VW.
He simply muttered the work “f*****” at the stage-end as the car struggled to fire up at the stage end, before adding: “This car will not get a sweet after the race.”
Oliver Solberg is fourth in WRC2, 35.7s behind Gryazin after setting the third-quickest time on SS11, 0.4s off Suninen’s pace.
Kajetan Kajetanowicz has wrestled the lead of WRC3 away from Yohan Rossel, winning two of the day’s first three stages to lead by 13.4s.
Chris Ingram is third but coming under increasing pressure from Nicolas Ciamin who’s just 0.5s behind.
Sami Pajari had led the Junior WRC category throughout Saturday until SS11 when he picked up a power steering issue and lost three minutes. That allowed Mārtiņš Sesks to assume the lead, 11.5s ahead of Martin Koči with Pajari now third.
1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) 24m11.9s
2 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +0.9s
3 Dani Sordo/Borja Rozada (Hyundai) +2.4s
4 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) +7.8s
5 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +17.5s
6 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +26.2s
Leading positions after SS11
1 Tänak/Järveoja 2h13m02.3s
2 Evans/Martin +19.2s
3 Sordo/Rozada +25.3s
4 Katsuta/Barritt +1m04.4s
5 Ogier/Ingrassia +1m04.9s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +1m44.8s
7 Greensmith/Patterson +2m03.4s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul (M-Sport Ford) +3m30.5s
9 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Volkswagen) +6m19.1s
10 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (M-Sport Ford) +6m33.1s