Kalle Rovanpera has moved into the overall lead of Rally Portugal after a day in which he showed aggression and applied the pressure on his Toyota teammate Elfyn Evans.
After trailing Evans for most of the day, the Finn took advantage of some rain in the final stages to jump ahead by 5.7s. Their teammate Takamoto Katsuta ended the day in third after a brilliant battle with Hyundai driver, Dani Sordo.
Day three saw a stretch of 7 stages ending with the Super Special Stage in Porto to round out the day.
Through the morning stages it was our Friday leader that kept the pace going. Elfyn Evans won the first and third stage of the day to increase his advantage to 18.4s over his teammate Kalle Rovanpera. The Finn was Evans’s closest challenger after taking the fastest time on the second stage of the day.
Takamoto Katsuta moved into third place making it a Toyota 1-2-3. The Japanese driver ran consistently to move ahead of Dani Sordo in his Hyundai, 3.5s was the gap, ensuring that this would be a tight battle for the podium between the two.
Thierry Neuville would make a strong comeback after yesterday’s issues and overtake the Ford duo of Gus Greensmith and Pierre-Louis Loubet. Loubet had a poor morning after spinning the car as a result of choosing the harder compound tyre.
The afternoon was all about the inter-team battle of Evans and Rovanpera. Stage 13 would see the Finn cut Evans’s by 1.9 seconds followed by another reduction of 6.6s in the following test. With two stages to go and the gap at 9.9s, it was going to be a tense end to the day.
Katsuta kept his strong day going and remained in third with the gap expanding a little to the chasing Sordo.
It wasn’t a good afternoon for Greensmith however, the Ford driver hit a bank on the 22km Vieir do Minho test and caused a slow puncture. To add insult to injury there was also suspension damage which couldn’t be fixed ahead of stage 14. This meant Gus had to call it a day.
Stage 15 would throw rain into the mix for some of the drivers. With some of the competitors getting a dry run through and the leading few getting a tricky stage, it was bound to throw up a change in the order.
With Evans running last, he got the worst of it which meant his Finnish teammate outpaced him by 13.9s. This gave Kalle a narrow 4s lead going into the final stage of the day.
It was Nueville however that took the stage win with a 16.9s gap back to the leading Toyota. The Belgian gained more valuable ground on Sordo and Katsuta as they finished eighth and fifth respectively. With the distance to them cut by 30+ second, Neuville’s Hyundai had the carrot dangled before him.
The rain was still pouring into the last stage and the cobbles would make it extra slippery. This run would be about precision rather than out right speed.
With cars running the harder tyre they suffered as there was no grip. It was immediately evident as Ott Tanak tiptoed around the stage, but Neuville would fair slightly better. The Belgian was relishing the challenge saying that he enjoyed the focus on precision driving.
It was Kalle Rovanpera however that topped the stage times in Rally 1 as well as the Overall going into the last day. Evans would give up only 1.7s to his teammate to keep his chances alive going into the final day.
Katsuta would end the day ahead of Sordo however the Hyundai driver clawed some time back on the final stage.