Sébastien Ogier remained at the top of the timing screens as day two of this weekend's Rally de Portugal drew to a conclusion – but with barely 20 seconds between himself and namesake and countryman Sébastien Loeb closing in fast behind, a thrilling final day looks to be in prospect as the leader chases his maiden WRC victory.
The second-fastest time on Saturday's last stage – the second run through S. Bras de Alpotel – earned Citroën Junior Team star Ogier a 21.1-second advantage over SS13 winner Loeb, two seconds quicker over the 16.72km distance as the multiple World Rally Champion completed a charge that saw him reduce the gap separating him from the lead by almost 28 seconds with four gravel stages now remaining.
“We tried to push all day,” Ogier told the championship's official website, acknowledging his disadvantage at having to effectively sweep the loose gravel away for all of his pursuers. “It was difficult, but we didn't lose a lot of time being first on the road. I know it will be hard again tomorrow.”
“I have to push tomorrow, but the gap is big and he (Ogier) is going very well,” added Loeb. “We are only second on the road tomorrow, so it won't be easy to make a difference. He was running very well, but at the same time saving nicely his tyres. I was too cautious for the tyres and lost too much time.”
Former WRC Champion Petter Solberg made it a Citroën one-two-three in his privately-entered C4 a further half minute down on Loeb, overcoming the Frenchman's team-mate Dani Sordo in the afternoon when the Spaniard's tyres began to fade – costing him time and the position – despite the Norwegian admitting to suffering from excessive tyre wear himself, caused by the abrasive surface and hot conditions.
Mikko Hirvonen has slipped to fifth, just under a minute-and-a-quarter shy of the lead and now the factory Ford outfit's sole remaining representative after the Finn's distraught team-mate and compatriot Jari-Matti Latvala, who lost control of his Focus WRC almost immediately after the start of Saturday's second stage and ended up shunting backwards into a tree 40 yards further down the road. It remains to be seen whether the Rally New Zealand winner will be able to re-start under SupeRally on Sunday, or whether the damage is too severe.
“The worst thing is I lost the manufacturers' points [for Ford], because I haven't been looking so much at the drivers' championship this season,” the 25-year-old confessed, already having unhappy memories of the Portuguese event on the world championship calendar following his terrifying accident there last year that saw him roll almost 20 times.
“At the beginning of the year we agreed we would concentrate on the manufacturers' championship as the second driver. It had been going well, but now we've made a mistake and we should not be having these problems anymore so we have work to do.
“Even though we had a big crash last year, the speed was there. Now, the first stage on this rally, I was not on the pace – I was sleeping. After that I started to find the rhythm and it was going better. Yesterday afternoon it was going better again, but I was too aggressive with my tyres and I lost time.
“This morning when I started I thought I would be able to climb up in the results. The first stage went quite well [and] I was quite happy with that, but then it ended on the second one. I've not been really happy with my driving on this rally, because there has been nothing wrong with the handling of my car. We need to learn from this, but quite quickly I have to put this behind me and start to concentrate for the next rallies.”
Latvala's seeming retirement has promoted Stobart VK M-Sport duo Henning Solberg and Matt Wilson to sixth and seventh respectively, with the former having been afflicted by fuel pump woes. Mads Østberg sits eighth in his independently-run Subaru Impreza despite having encountered power steering issues, with ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen ninth in the second Citroën Junior Team entry after surviving a late 'off', with the Finn's lack of experience on gravel the chief culprit. Federico Villagra rounds out the top ten heading into the final day.
Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 13 / Day 2 (Top 10):
1. Sébastien Ogier
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC 2hours 50mins 48.1secs
2. Sébastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +00mins 21.1secs
3. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen C4 WRC +00mins 52.2secs
4. Dani Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC +01min 05.7secs
5. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC +01min 13.9secs
6. Henning Solberg
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +03mins 02.8secs
7. Matthew Wilson
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC +04mins 41.8secs
8. Mads Ostberg
Adapta Subaru Impreza WRC +05mins 36.7secs
9. Kimi Raikkonen
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC +07mins 29.7secs
10. Federico Villagra
Ford Focus RS WRC 08 +07mins 55.1secs
SWRC Standings after Stage 13 / Day 2 (Top 3):
1. Jari Ketomaa
Ford Fiesta S2000 3hours 00mins 39.0secs
2. Xavier Pons
Ford Fiesta S2000 +03mins 08.7secs
3. Michal Kosciuszko
Ford Fiesta S2000 +05mins 20.8secs
JWRC Standings after Stage 13 / Day 2 (Top 3):
1. Kevin Abbring
Renault Clio R3 3hours 16mins 46.3secs
2. Karl Kruuda
Suzuki Swift S1600 +04mins 44.1secs
3. Aaron Burkart
Suzuki Swift S1600 +10mins 55.3secs
all times unofficial