Jari-Matti Latvala will go into the final leg of Rally de Portugal with a 9.5 second advantage, but Sebastien Ogier has hauled himself right into contention, after winning all three stages on Saturday afternoon.
Latvala saw his overnight lead cut from 11.1s to 6.1s this morning, with Kris Meeke closing after the Finn made mistakes in SS8 and SS10.
On the repeats, Latvala was second best in all three tests, but with Ogier on a mission, the Frenchman now moves up from P4 to P2, with the gap between the two Volkswagen drivers down by almost 10 seconds, from 19.1s after SS10 to 9.5s post-SS13.
“I think attacked too hard early on [in SS13] and killed the tyres. I'm a bit disappointed, but least we are still ahead, that's the main thing,” Latvala told the official WRC site. “Ogier is coming very strong [now] and in these situations he is fired up. This is like a fuel for him.”
Speaking back in service, Latvala added: “It was a day of many positives, but also a few negatives for us. The conditions were anything but easy, it was extremely slippery on the special stages and there were some stones on the track here and there.
“On the first stage I lost around five seconds due to a driving error, and Kris Meeke made up a lot of time by the first service. I turned it around in the afternoon and was able to edge away from Meeke again.
“But my team-mate Sebastien Ogier really piled on the pressure all day and is now breathing down my neck. It will be a thrilling battle for the win tomorrow. The positive is that I'm leading the rally and still have an advantage of almost ten seconds.”
Meanwhile, Ogier was encouraged by his pace, gaining two places on the leaderboard on the opening loop and two more in the afternoon when he moved ahead of Meeke and Andreas Mikkelsen. He had started the day 25.9s adrift of Latvala, but has now more than halved the deficit.
"Julien [Ingrassia – my co-driver] and I risked everything today. On top of that, our tyre strategy paid off. Overall I am more than happy with our position going into the final day. I feel that we did a perfect job in the cockpit,” Ogier noted.
“A little over nine seconds means that it won't be that easy to catch Jari-Matti Latvala tomorrow, but it's not impossible either. I'll continue to put all my eggs in one basket again on Sunday and give one hundred percent – and then we'll see what we can achieve with that."
Behind, Meeke dropped from P2 to P3 in the final test of the afternoon, with a relatively slow time allowing Mikkelsen to move to within 1.1s. Meeke had been 8.2s ahead prior to Fridao 2.
“My right rear was tough to keep in line, it's a soft,” Meeke said after SS13. “I came here with a bit of confidence, but I am not prepared to risk everything to fight for the win. I have to think about my season and we have work to do to catch Volkswagen.
“My goal is still to make it to the finish and score good points. We've had two good days since the start, so we're fairly pleased for the moment. We have to keep it up and that way, we'll get another good result here.”
“I had a spin after the flying finish [of SS13]. But the stage was okay, not the best stage I've done, but I'm happy enough,” Mikkelsen added. “I'm happy with my performance today [overall] and the team's. The pressure is on and it means taking more risks. For sure I would like to finish on the podium. My first time in this car [the 2015-spec Polo R WRC], so it shows what's to come.”
Further back, M-Sport's Ott Tanak is a lonely fifth in the new Fiesta RS WRC, 50s off the fight for third and a similar amount up on Dani Sordo's Hyundai in P6.
“I think the day has been good and I'm happy that we could show some really consistent pace this afternoon,” Tanak said. “We've just felt comfortable all weekend. I'm really enjoying the driving and the handling of the car is perfect – whatever I want it to do, it does.
“So far it's been a very positive weekend for us as it's been a while since I've felt this good. It's great for the confidence that we are able to set such good times without having to take any risks and tomorrow should provide us with another positive day.
“I know most of the Fafe stage having competed there twice already, and we have a little joker left with the tyres so I am really looking forward to it.”
“We haven't quite been able to find the same rhythm and speed as we could yesterday but, all things considered, it has not been a bad day,” Sordo continued. “We lost a bit of time this morning, mainly as a result of our tyres not being optimum for the conditions. This has been the situation for everyone this weekend so we have kept pushing where we can and to get the best out of the car.
“It hasn't been as rough as yesterday but we now have to prepare well for the final three stages tomorrow - with the famous Fafe stage where we have some previous experience - so we can resume our close fight with Hayden [Paddon] and Mads [Ostberg] for the top six.”
Hyundai third driver Hayden Paddon ended the day in seventh, 10.6s behind Sordo and 4s up on Mads Ostberg. Ostberg had issues with the rear diff in the opening loop and then lost time with turbo issues in the afternoon.
“The problem is not fixed, something is still broken so we did the stage [SS13] with no boost, just on very high revs. It's impossible to have a rhythm. I'm using first gear in third gear corners just to keep going,” the Norwegian complained.
Former F1 driver Robert Kubica then comes in ninth, with fellow Ford runner, Martin Prokop tenth.
“I'm very happy,” said Kubica. “For sure if we continue like this tomorrow it will be the best rally. After a three month break, to jump into the new car with little knowledge of these tyres and have a successful rally is a good thing.”
In WRC2, Nasser Al-Attiyah concludes the leg 49s up on Esapekka Lappi, while Pontus Tidemand has slipped to third.
As for retirements, Thierry Neuville, Elfyn Evans and Lorenzo Bertelli were the most notable casualties. Neuville rolled his Hyundai in the first test of the day, while Evans – having re-started under Rally 2 – went out in the same stage after hitting a rock. Bertelli then retired in SS10, another running under Rally 2, and another crashing out.
Rally de Portugal now concludes on Sunday, with three stages on the bill and a competitive distance of 54.65km.
SS14, the 11.15 km Fafe 1 test, is due to start at 08.05 hours local time. Full itinerary for event available - HERE
2015 Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 13 (Top 10):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC 2h 56m 19.9s
2. Sebastien Ogier
Volkswagen Motorsport Polo R WRC +0m 09.5s
3. Kris Meeke
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +0m 20.0s
4. Andreas Mikkelsen
Volkswagen Motorsport II Polo R WRC +0m 21.1s
5. Ott Tanak
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +1m 11.1s
6. Dani Sordo
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC +1m 50.4s
7. Hayden Paddon
Hyundai Motorsport N i20 WRC +2m 01.0s
8. Mads Ostberg
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC +2m 05.0s
9. Robert Kubica
Ford Fiesta RS WRC +3m 06.9s
10. Martin Prokop
Jipocar Czech National Team Ford Fiesta RS WRC +5m 49.7s
11. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta RRC +8m 36.5s
12. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 +9m 25.5s
WRC2 standings after Stage 13 (Top 3):
1. Nasser Al-Attiyah
Ford Fiesta RRC 3h 04m 56.4s
2. Esapekka Lappi
Skoda Fabia R5 +0m 49.0s
3. Pontus Tidemand
Skoda Fabia R5 +1m 05.1s
SS2. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Out of time
SS4. Khalid Al Qassimi
Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT DS 3 WRC Mechanical
SS7. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Retired on road section on way back to service
SS8. Thierry Neuville
Hyundai Motorsport i20 WRC Rolled
SS8. Elfyn Evans
M-Sport WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Hit a rock
SS10. Lorenzo Bertelli
Ford Fiesta RS WRC Rolled
M denotes Manufacturer entry
*denotes re-started on Saturday under Rally 2
all times unofficial