For a driver that had just nicked the final place on a World Rally Championship podium at the very last opportunity, Dani Sordo didn’t exude the energy you might expect.
He almost felt guilty to have taken that position away from Takamoto Katsuta – a driver he described as “really, really fast” – by 2.1 seconds, having trailed by 2.2s ahead of the powerstage.
Sordo was quick to console Katsuta at the end of the stage. But rallying at world level is ultimately a business and the extra points he salvaged for Hyundai were a welcome boost for the entire team, which struggled with reliability problems on Rally Portugal.
But how did he do it?
A pep talk, telling himself that “now I need to go for it,” certainly helped, and it was driven by a phone call from his boss.
“He did the job as usual,” Hyundai deputy team director Julien Moncet told DirtFish.
“We know Dani. For sure he has less mileage and less experience than the others in this car. He is very consistent, very steady and in the end, he makes no noise but he is always at the end with big points.
“His target today was really clear, it was to catch up to Katsuta. We gave him everything, we gave him full opportunity to do it, I called him before the last stage [and said] I don’t care about damage, I don’t care about the car and so on and he did it.”
“He just said ‘you need to enjoy and drive,'” Sordo explained.
“Honestly Julien, he was so good during the weekend, he just said enjoy. Even if you make a mistake we have another two cars.
“I’m a driver that normally doesn’t break a lot [of cars], maybe I can take a wheel off or something [but] I will not do the roll cage I think at the moment!
“So he said ‘try to go for it and enjoy’ and I said ‘I tried all the weekend all the morning but I will give an extra boost now and try to do it.'”
Moncet’s words are music to the ears of any rally driver. But even though he was unleashed, Sordo still had to do the job – and as he said, Katsuta wasn’t exactly hanging around.
Over the course of the day, the pair had been closely matched. Sordo took a good swipe out of Katsuta on the morning’s first test but thereafter it was just tenths between them.
On the first pass of Fafe, which was to be that all-important final stage, Sordo was only 0.1s quicker than his Toyota-driving rival.
“The Fafe stage is like a typical stage, you drive very fast and it’s nice,” Sordo said.
“But you can always go a little bit more, and you feel this. To go really fast you need these little [details] and you can make a step.
“I knew from other years also that you need to really push like hell.”
That’s exactly what Sordo did. He found something special to set what was the second-fastest time, bettered only by the spellbinding rally winner Kalle Rovanperä.
“Every year you say ‘I can do better. I would like to arrive one day to this [famous] jump and to pass like flat out and to see what happens!” he laughed.
“It’s like I say to Thierry [Neuville] before, when I am on the start line of Fafe I always think of three places, they come to mind.
“It’s the first jump of Fafe – not the last one, the first one – because this is difficult. You have an audience and the first time when I arrived there it was foggy, so I didn’t see anything!
Dani Sordo just lifted his performanceJari-Matti Latvala
“This jump is very difficult and there’s a few corners before, two right corners, which are flat out. For me these are the nicest corners. In these two corners, it’s very easy to make a mistake there but it’s flat, this jump and then the Fafe jump, they come to your mind.
“Even if you don’t want them to, they come!”
They’re likely corners that’ll be at the forefront of Katsuta’s mind when he tackles the stage next year too. He was visibly distraught at the end that he had not just lost a podium for himself, but also cost Toyota a dream 1-2-3 result – declaring that “I am just not good enough”.
But that theory is nonsense according to Toyota team principal Jari-Matti Latvala.
“It was absolutely a great drive from Taka,” Latvala told DirtFish.
“He lost a couple of seconds to the podium, but honestly I think Dani Sordo just lifted his performance. Taka was not driving bad because his time on the powerstage was still really good, but the factor was Dani was lifting his performance.
“And then OK, Taka was also a bit unlucky with the weather on the Porto street stage [on Saturday], where he basically lost too much time. But this is motorsport and this is Portugal. This happens.
“But he needs to be proud and we are proud of his performance and the podium will come next time.”