Rally Portugal, saturday: Tänak’s lead shredded

Neuville was hot on the heels of Tänak and Meeke

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By www.wrc.com

1 June 2019 - 20:59
Rally Portugal, saturday: Tänak's

SS8-9: Tänak overcomes brake drama

Ott Tänak preserved his Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead on Saturday morning despite a major scare when the brakes on his Toyota Yaris World Rally Car failed.

The Estonian pulled into the finish of the opening Vieira do Minho speed test with a concerned look on his face. Tänak was asked if he had an issue and no words were needed as he pushed the brake pedal which went straight to the floor.

He dropped 9.0sec to team-mate and stage winner Kris Meeke and departed the stop line to work on the car on the liaison section ahead of the following Cabeceiras de Basto test. His efforts paid off as he was second fastest, 0.4sec behind Yaris colleague Jari-Matti Latvala.

It left his advantage at 10.9sec over Latvala, who had his hands full with a charging Meeke. The Britain’s opening stage victory reduced the margin between them to 2.5sec, but Latvala’s fastest time widened his advantage to 5.3sec.

There was another big battle behind for fourth between title rivals Thierry Neuville and Sébastien Ogier. Championship leader Ogier was quicker in both stages in his Citroën C3 to climb ahead of the Belgian’s Hyundai i20 by 0.2sec.

Conditions were again hot and dusty and after the opening test ran with three-minute intervals between the leading drivers, the margin was raised to four minutes for Cabeceiras de Basto after several drivers struggled for visibility.

Further down the leaderboard, Esapekka Lappi climbed to seventh in his C3, demoting World Rally Car debutant Gus Greensmith.

Elfyn Evans was also back on the leaderboard after the electrical problem in his Ford Fiesta yesterday. The Welshman moved up to ninth, ahead of new WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä, who demoted team-mate and overnight leader Jan Kopecký this morning.

SS10: Tänak under pressure

Ott Tänak’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead came under attack from Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala on Saturday morning.

Latvala turned up the heat in the sandy Amarante speed test, the longest of the rally, to set a second fastest time following victory in the previous Cabeceiras de Basto stage. His win double slashed Tänak’s overnight 17.3sec lead to 5.1sec.

The brake problems which hindered Tänak in the opening test were finally resolved before Amarante, but the Estonian was shocked when he saw his colleague’s time.

Latvala gambled with a mix of Michelin’s medium and hard compound tyres for his Yaris. In contrast, Tänak opted for medium rubber all round.

“I think we got it right. It was good thinking with the engineers and the tyre guys, the strategy was good. We also made some set-up changes with the car and it was working very well,” said Latvala.

Tänak was relaxed about his colleague’s pace. “If we can get the car finally fixed in service, I don’t see any problems. It should be OK this afternoon. After 4km of the opening stage we had no brakes and couldn’t fix them until before the last one.

"We were focused on getting the car to the finish. Now we need to get back into our normal rhythm,” he said.

Kris Meeke preserved Toyota’s hold on the top three places. He won the opening Vieira do Minho stage, but could not maintain that pace in Amarante, where he suffered a huge crash 12 months ago that ended his tenure at Citroën Racing. He fell 13.3sec behind Latvala.
Thierry Neuville climbed to fourth

The other big battle was between championship leader Sébastien Ogier, in a Citroën C3, and title rival Thierry Neuville for fourth. Neuville’s Hyundai Motorsport team played a double dose of tactics in a bid to help the Belgian.

With Dani Sordo and Sébastien Loeb out of the running for a top place after fuel pressure problems yesterday, Hyundai ordered them to deliberately incur time penalties by dropping down the start order to slot in after Ogier and ahead of Neuville.

It meant two cars fewer in front of Ogier to sweep loose gravel from the road and provide a cleaner and faster line. Having initially dropped behind Ogier this morning, Neuville regained fourth in Amarante by 1.9sec, despite the extra weight of a second spare wheel.

Esapekka Lappi gained another place in his C3, moving ahead of Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta by 9.1sec into sixth.

Gus Greensmith stalled at the start of Amarante and overshot a hairpin near the finish and held eighth, ahead of a recovering Elfyn Evans and WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä.

After SS13: Tänak’s lead shredded

Ott Tänak’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead was hanging by a thread on Saturday night after a dramatic finale to the penultimate leg.

He clung onto a 4.3sec lead over Toyota Gazoo Racing colleague Kris Meeke after damage to his Yaris’ front right suspension left him limping through the final speed test – the longest of the rally at almost 40km.

An identical problem for team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, on the other side of the car, sidelined the Finn from second place before the same test after he was on course to deny Tänak a second consecutive WRC victory.

Brake problems in the opening test slowed Tänak and two stage wins for Latvala slashed the Estonian’s overnight lead from 17.3sec to 5.1sec.

Latvala damaged his suspension after a heavy landing in the afternoon’s opener. He struggled through the next test before stopping, leaving Tänak 15.2sec clear of Meeke before the leader struck trouble of his own.

“Twenty-five kilometres before the finish we broke the front right damper. Five kilometres after I went wide in a corner and had to reverse. It was a challenging stage. Tomorrow, if there are no issues, it should be a good day,” said Tänak.

The top three places were blanketed by 9.2sec as Thierry Neuville won the final two stages in a Hyundai i20 to close to within 4.9sec of Meeke.

A hydraulic problem meant Meeke could not use his handbrake in the last stage, which was littered with hairpin bends. The Briton limited the time loss to stay ahead of Neuville and set up a pulsating battle for the podium tomorrow.

High temperatures, hanging dust and rough roads ensured the leg, which comprised more than half the rally’s competitive distance, was a gruelling challenge.

Championship leader Sébastien Ogier was fourth in a Citroen C3, 21.0sec off the lead and an unwitting player in a double dose of tactics by Neuville’s Hyundai team.

With Dani Sordo and Sébastien Loeb out of the running for a top place after fuel pressure problems yesterday, the Korean squad ordered them to deliberately incur time penalties by dropping down the start order to slot in after Ogier and ahead of Neuville.

It meant Ogier had two cars fewer starting before him to sweep loose gravel from the road and provide a cleaner and faster line.

Team-mate Esapekka Lappi climbed from eighth to fifth, leap-frogging Teemu Suninen, who was almost half a minute behind in a Ford Fiesta.

Gus Greensmith was a last stage retirement after crashing his Fiesta into a ditch, allowing team-mate Elfyn Evans up to seventh. WRC 2 Pro leader Kalle Rovanperä, Skoda Fabia team-mate Jan Kopecký and WRC 2 leader Pierre-Louis Loubet completed the top 10.

Sunday’s finale is the shortest of the weekend. Five sandy stages include a double run over the famous Fafe test, the second of which forms the Wolf Power Stage with bonus points for the fastest five crews. They add up to 51.77km.

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