Jari-Matti Latvala became the third leader in four stages at Vodafone Rally de Portugal after a blistering performance in the final test of Friday morning’s loop.On roads covered in thick loose gravel, the Finn took advantage of his low start position to win the Viana do Castelo test by 5.6sec to vault from third to first in his Volkswagen Polo R.
“That was a big push,” he admitted. “There was a lot of loose gravel and a lot of cleaning by the cars ahead. Sometimes when you have an opportunity you have to use it. I haven’t had a time like that for a long time, so it’s nice to use it now.”
Latvala led Kris Meeke by 6.1sec, the Briton third in both Viana do Castelo and the previous Caminha test in Citroën’s DS 3. Andreas Mikkelsen, who led overnight and again after Caminha, was 9.2sec off the lead in third in his Polo R.
Dani Sordo headed the field after SS2 but the Spaniard was fifth in each of the next two tests to hold fourth in his Hyundai i20, 12.3sec off the lead.
Ott Tänak was fifth in the new Ford Fiesta RS, nine seconds clear of Mads Østberg, who was fastest in Caminha but fell foul of the gravel in the following test.
Worst hit was first on the road Sébastien Ogier, who described it as ‘one of the worst stages I’ve driven for sweeping’. The Frenchman was seventh, 25.7sec off the lead as competitors returned to Matsosinhos for service.
Virtually all the top drivers opted for Michelin’s soft compound tyres and most completed the loop with their rubber at the limit of its capabilities.
Neuville opted for a different strategy with three hard and two soft tyres in his i20 for the loop. “I’m the only one on hard tyres. I tried to save my soft allocation for tomorrow but maybe I’ve lost a bit too much today,” said the Belgian, who is 50.3sec off the lead.
Khalid Al Qassimi retired at the start of SS4 after the handbrake locked on his DS 3, while Elfyn Evans coaxed his Fiesta RS to life after a throttle response problem in SS2, but is more than an hour behind.