for Rally de Portugal leaderboard after SS15
Britain's Kris Meeke will take a 45.3 second advantage into the final day of Rally de Portugal after opting for “a bit of a safer approach” on Saturday's repeat loop.
Meeke won all three tests this morning to increase his overnight lead over Sebastien Ogier from 31.9secs to just over a minute. That meant he could take it more carefully this afternoon, but despite carrying two spare tyres, was fourth quickest in SS13 in his Citroen DS 3 WRC and fifth in SS14 and SS15.
“This afternoon the attitude changed. We went for a bit of a safer approach,” Meeke confirmed. “The car was set-up higher and we were carrying two spare wheels, which is difficult to manage as it changes the attitude of the car. I'm still happy though, as we go into the rally tomorrow [still] in the lead.”
Speaking back in service, he added: “I felt really comfortable in the car this morning. Paul [Nagle – my co-driver] was doing a great job alongside me so I was able to push and set three good times to increase my lead. This time, I have to say my road position was a clear advantage.
“Once the lead was over a minute, I could afford to take two spares for the second pass. I had expected it to cost me one or two tenths per kilometre and that's exactly what I lost to Sebastien Ogier. So I'm really pleased with our performance today and I'm ready to defend this first place tomorrow. I couldn't be happier tonight!”
Meanwhile, Ogier continued to be hindered by his position at the head of the field, with Volkswagen team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen reducing the gap from 12.8secs at lunchtime to just 0.5secs prior to the penultimate stage. Ogier, however, fought back in Amarante 2 going quickest to maintain second position. The two are now split by just 3.1secs.
“It is never easy on the second loop,” Ogier remarked. “I struggled a lot for the grip. I am however happy with my drive.”
“We are pushing and having fun,” added Mikkelsen, who was quickest in SS13 and SS14 and second in SS15. “It was a really good drive, a clean drive and no mistakes - really enjoyable. I had a slightly harder tyre and it took time to warm up, but the car is fantastic.”
Behind, Dani Sordo slipped further behind Mikkelsen, finishing the day 30secs off the battle for second. Sordo had started day two in third in his Hyundai, 15secs ahead of the Norwegian.
“Today was not as straightforward for us, and we were not able to keep hold of our top-three position,” said Sordo. “The stage conditions were more slippery than yesterday, which didn't suit us as much as our rivals.
“Generally speaking, I was satisfied with the balance of the car but we needed a bit more traction at the rear. We were missing grip and we lost a lot of time as a result. We tried some things at lunchtime service and made some changes to the differential, but it wasn't really enough.
“We have four stages tomorrow so it's not over yet. We'll keep pushing and hope to reward the incredible fans here with a good result.”
M-Sport's Eric Camilli is next up in fifth, ahead of Volkswagen's Jari-Matti Latvala and team-mate Mads Ostberg, the latter losing considerable time this morning with a rear driveshaft issue.
“Today has been a very good day for me and I certainly have a smile on my face! We posted the third fastest time on the first stage this morning [SS10] which was very good news for us – proving that we can fight with the top guys,” Camilli noted.
“We still have a lot to learn but I think that we are improving all the time. We've improved the driving, the understanding, the pacenotes, everything. As an example we are developing the pacenotes rally after rally and now I have a lot more distances between the corners that I didn't have before. That's helping me to find some tenth under braking.
“But the rally is not finished yet and tomorrow will be a difficult day as I have never experienced the Fafe stage before. Everyone else knows it very well so it will be a special challenge for us.”
Further back, Ford privateer Martin Prokop is eighth, with WRC2 class leader Pontus Tidemand ninth and Nicolas Fuchs tenth. Tidemand briefly lost the lead in WRC2 this afternoon, when he had to stop after picking up a puncture. The Swede reasserted his authority though in SS15, going quickest to finish the day 32 seconds ahead of Fuchs. Marius Aasen is third in WRC2.
As for retirements, Khalid Al Qassimi went out this afternoon in his Citroen DS 3 WRC when he went off the road in SS13 and damaged the front of the car.
Stephane Lefebvre, Kevin Abbring, Thierry Neuville and Elfyn Evans also went out today, but on the first loop. Lefebvre was the first to go after hitting a rock and breaking a suspension arm in SS10. He had been sixth overall. Abbring, returning under Rally 2, also hit a rock in that test and was forced out, joined on the sidelines a stage later by team-mate Neuville. Neuville had been fifth, but stopped in SS11 when he ran out of fuel.
Evans was the only other notable casualty, rolling his Fiesta R5 in SS12. After a turbo change last night, Evans had been back on the pace and was up to second in WRC2 until his off.
Rally de Portugal now concludes on Sunday, with two stages on the bill, both to be run twice, giving a total competitive distance of 67.32 km. SS16, the first-run through the 22.47 km Vieira do Minho 1 test is due to start on Sunday at 07.04 hours local time.
for Rally de Portugal leaderboard after SS15