WRC Ott Tanak under pressure from Jari-Matti Latvala in Portual
For immediate release
Saturday, June 1st, 2019
TÄNAK UNDER PRESSURE FROM LATVALA IN PORTUGAL
MATOSINHOS (PORTUGAL): The Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team continued to dominate the 53rd Vodafone Rally of Portugal after three further gravel stages to the east of Matosinhos on Saturday morning.
The Estonian duo of Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja began the day with an outright lead of 17.3 seconds and overcame a lack of brakes on the first stage of the morning to reach the midday service stop at the Exponor with an advantage of 5.1 seconds over hard-charging Toyota team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Both Latvala and Ulster’s Kris Meeke had set a fastest time apiece on the opening two stages and continued to stay clear of a fierce battle for fourth place that was waging between Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville and Citroën’s defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier.
With Toyota Gazoo Racing maintaining 1-2-3 at the front of the field, Neuville and Ogier were separated by just 1.9 seconds after 10 special stages with the Belgian taking fourth overall into the midday break. He also closed to within 5.3 seconds of Meeke’s third place. Meeke said: “I have been enjoying it. Relative to this time last year I was on my way to hospital and out of a job!”
M-Sport Ford’s Teemu Suninen was back in a competitive pace after his first day brake issues, although the Finn was coming under increasing pressure from fellow countryman Esapekka Lappi in the second of the works Citroën C3 WRCs. Lappi had overhauled young Gus Greensmith after the first stage of the morning to secure seventh overall and he reached service 9.1 seconds ahead of Suninen after a thumping time in Amarante and a down-on-power engine for his rival.
Road-sweeping duties had fallen to Sébastien Loeb for two stages, while Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo was setting some fast stage times but was out of the running for championship points after his fuel-feed issues on Friday.
M-Sport Ford’s Elfyn Evans was also out of the running for a top five finish and concentrating on trying to secure Manufacturers’ points for M-Sport Ford, despite Hyundai team tactics putting the Welshman first on the road for the 10th stage.
A puncture had cost Kalle Rovanperä his WRC 2 Pro category lead on Friday, but the young Finn found a way passed Czech team-mate Jan Kopecký to regain the advantage in the second of the new Škoda Fabia R5 Evos, His lead was 37.2 seconds after SS10.
Ole-Christien Veiby lost his WRC 2 lead after stopping in Amarante. The young Volkswagen Polo GTI R5 driver’s closest rival had been Pierre-Louis Loubet and the Corsican inherited second place behind Takamoto Katsuta with Russian Nikolay Gryazin also stopping in SS10.
Saturday morning – as it happened
Tänak started the second day from 11th on the road and defending a lead of 17.3 seconds, but the dubious honour of cleaning the fresh stage surfaces and creating the lines fell to Sébastien Loeb. Seven of the original starters retired after day one, but both Mads Østberg and Rhys Yates returned to action under Rally 2.
The longest leg of the rally offered 160.70km and action got underway with the 20.53km of the Vieiro do Minho stage to the north-east of Matosinhos. A tactical Hyundai team instructed Dani Sordo to start the stage late and the Spaniard slotted into the line-up between Ogier and Neuville, as hanging dust hampered drivers with the stage progressing with three-minute intervals between the cars.
Meeke clocked the fastest time, but Tänak maintained a lead of 11.3 seconds after serious brake problems. Ogier reduced Neuville’s hold on fourth place to just half a second and Meeke was able to close to within 2.5 seconds of Latvala’s second place. A stunning time by Rovanperä enabled the Finn to overhaul Škoda team-mate Jan Kopecký and regain his WRC 2 Pro advantage.
Latvala had opted for hard compound tyres and hoped that they would come into their own in the 22.22km of the next Caberceiras de Basto stage. Rally officials introduced four-minute gaps for the second stage of the day to try and reduce any dust issues.
Loeb continued his stage cleaning duties and posted the target time of 14min 09.8sec. Lappi had overhauled Greensmith on the first special of the morning and closed to within 5.6 seconds of Suninen’s hold on sixth place with a time of 13min 50.9sec. The duel for fourth place between Ogier and Neuville continued at break-neck speed and the Frenchman managed to sneak ahead of the Belgian and snatch fourth place by 0.2 seconds.
Meeke continued to pressurise Latvala but the Finn was in determined mood and managed to increase his advantage over the Ulsterman to 5.2 seconds. Tänak overcame his brake issues and the second fastest time enabled the Estonian to maintain a lead of 10.9 seconds.
The last stage of the loop was the longest stage of the rally – the 37.60km of a very sandy Amarante special. The running order changed again and Evans was the first driver into the special, with Loeb missing out on his designated start time for road sweeping, as Hyundai team tactics continued and he slotted in behind Ogier in the running order.
Lappi claimed that we was gaining ‘Dakar’ experience with the amount of sand on the stage, but the Finn posted an impressive time of 25min 16.4sec and managed to overtake a troubled Suninen to snatch sixth. Hyundai’s start strategy certainly had a positive effect on Neuville and the Belgian managed to beat Ogier and move 1.9 seconds in front of the Frenchman and into fourth place.
Latvala used the ruts in the track to his advantage and another fastest time moved him to within 5.1 seconds of the rally leader to set up the prospect of a thrilling afternoon loop of three stages in the Portuguese dust and heat.
For further media information:
Miguel Fonseca, National Rally Press Officer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Lluisa Torras, International Media Relations, email: email@example.com, Mobile: +34 629 924073.