Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier has taken the spoils again on Rally de Portugal, his fourth win in the Algarve after also triumphing in 2013, 2011 and 2010. The result – his third victory of the 2014 WRC season – lifts him clear in the Drivers' Championship as he looks to retain his crown.
Ogier led early on, despite running first in the order on the opening day. However in the final stage on Friday he slipped back, concluding the leg third overall, 6.5 seconds off overnight leader, Mikko Hirvonen.
The Frenchman soon re-took P1 the following day, however, and moved back top in SS9. In the end he won five of the six stages on Saturday, romping ahead on the second pass to build a comfortable 38.1 second advantage.
That meant he could cruise through the short final day, made up of just three stages, although he still went for it in SS16, the event ending Power Stage, taking another stage win – his eighth of the event – and with it the three bonus points to make it a maximum 28-point haul from the fourth round in the 2014 World Rally Championship .His lead over Jari-Matti Latvala in the Drivers' Championship now goes up from 3 points to 29 (91 points versus 62).
“It has been a great weekend - our fourth victory here!” Ogier told the official WRC site. “It wasn't an easy one and Mikko pushed really hard, but in the end, another win and a maximum with the Power Stage [win] too. Perfect!”
Hirvonen meanwhile was an encouraging second, his best result since returning to M-Sport and his first podium since Spain last year. The Finn was in contention for the win until Saturday afternoon, when tyre wear issues left him unable to match Ogier, although second best times in all but the final test of the day on Saturday, showed he was clearly 'best of the rest'.
“I am really happy with that,” stated Hirvonen. “A clean rally with no problems and that's what I wanted. I know the pace is there [to win] - it is just all the small things [that we need to get right]. It [the Fiesta RS WRC] is competitive. Everything is working well - a top job from the guys.”
Mads Ostberg took the final podium place for Citroen, gradually upping his speed and finishing with flourish, with a stage win in the penultimate test.
“The strategy has not been perfect. We have been working hard with the car and learning something all the time. [Overall] it has been a good weekend though - many positives. I am very happy with everything,” said the former Crash.net
Behind, Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot, Andreas Mikkelsen put a nightmare event in Mexico firmly behind him with a mature drive to take fourth: “This is a lot better result than I was expecting. We've done a clever pace. It has been a good weekend. The confidence is now back,” remarked the Norwegian.
Henning Solberg marked his second outing in this year's WRC with a very good fifth, around 10 seconds further adrift in his privately entered M-Sport Ford Fiesta RS WRC: “I am very satisfied. I am old but I am happy... I am very fast. Just give me a few days testing and I can beat these younger guys! I love this,” he said,
Martin Prokop rounded out the top six in his Jipocar Czech National Team Fiesta RS WRC, gaining a place in the final test when Thierry Neuville spun: “Something in the transmission broke and after we only had rear-wheel drive. The car was difficult and we had a spin,” explained the Belgian, who also lost over 8 minutes on Saturday afternoon, when he hit a big root and caused substantial damage to his Hyundai i20 WRC. “This weekend has been much better than expected, however," he added, "We had much better pace than expected, although we still have a lot of work to do.”
Juho Hanninen was next up in the other Hyundai, 19.3 seconds back, and like Neuville he had his fair share of difficulties, with a couple of punctures and a transmission problem on day two. He also hit a tree in SS14 today.
WRC2 runners, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Jari Ketomaa filled the final two top ten places, the former taking the class win by 11.6 seconds.
In the JWRC/WRC3, Stephane Lefebvre won, more than a minute up on Christian Riedemann. Alastair Fisher had dominated until he hit problems in SS13, the final test on Saturday.
As for retirements, Kris Meeke, former Formula 1 driver, Robert Kubica, Ott Tanak and Dani Sordo were the most notable scalps. Meeke crashed out in SS7 on Friday, while Kubica went off twice – in SS4 and SS9. Tanak, who had been running third, crashed out in SS10. Sordo retired on the final day with a broken front left driveshaft stopping him on the road section to SS14. The Spaniard had been set to finish fourth in his Hyundai i20 WRC.
Jari-Matti Latvala and Elfyn Evans also had problems and went off the road. Evans crashed in SS4, while Latvala, who had been challenging for the win, binned it in SS5. Both finished under Rally 2, with Latvala classified in 14th and Evans in 22nd.
The 2014 FIA World Rally Championship now heads to Argentina next, with that event running from May 8-11.
To view the result for Rally de Portugal 2014 - CLICK HERE