Sébastien Ogier has made it two Rally Portugal victories in succession after comfortably staving off Citroën Total World Rally Team team-mate and compatriot Sébastien Loeb for glory on the 2011 edition this weekend – but it is the latter who has secured himself a share of the World Rally Championship lead.
The result marked Ogier's third WRC triumph since joining the top division in 2008 – and the ideal antidote to the final day accident that had arguably cost him the top step of the podium in Mexico three weeks ago. On the demanding gravel stages of the Algarve, the 27-year-old was faultless as he maintained his overnight advantage – and the extra point he claimed for third place on the Power Stage has helped to vault the Frenchman firmly into contention for the crown at just 17 markers adrift of the top of the table.
“I'm very happy,” Ogier acknowledged, speaking to the championship's official website. “We had the perfect weekend, the car was perfect and Julien [Ingrassia – co-driver] was perfect. I would like to dedicate this victory to all the team who prepared a perfect car. They have shown trust in me since the start of the season and following my mistake in Mexico. It is the best way to come back from our crash there. It is a long way to go in the championship, but I'm in a better position now.”
Loeb wound up just over half a minute adrift in the end, with the WRC 'recordman' prevailing on the Power Stage to join Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team rival Mikko Hirvonen atop the title standings, and with three different winners from the three events to-date this season, the seven-time world champion predicts an 'interesting' battle ahead.
columnist Jari-Matti Latvala was 'really happy' to preserve his 100 per cent podium record in 2011 thus far with a distant third following a troubled rally, with team-mate Hirvonen – himself delayed substantially by a broken driveshaft in the morning and a suspected rear damper issue towards the end of the Power Stage – overhauling M-Sport Stobart adversary and fellow Fiesta RS WRC ace Matthew Wilson on the rain-hit penultimate run to cement P4.
Wilson concluded proceedings fifth, ahead of former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg, whose inspired charge following his opening day setback saw him pace both SS15 and SS16 and leapfrog ex-F1 World Champion Kimi Raikkonen in a similar Citroën DS3 WRC on the Power Stage to complete his final day recovery from ninth to an excellent sixth.
“It was not bad, but for me I am very sad about the first day with the unbelievable punctures,” acknowledged the Norwegian. “Still, I recovered from this and I will never give up.”
“I knew Petter would push like hell [on the last stage], but it was okay,” added a phlegmatic Raikkonen. “We learned a lot with this car on this rally after just a little test. We improved the car, and now we have to pick up the speed a bit.”
Eighth went to Federico Villagra, who confessed to still needing time to learn his Munchi's Fiesta, ahead of the second M-Sport Stobart entry of Henning Solberg, who suffered turbo boost issues on the penultimate run and paused to allow the pursuing Hirvonen to pass on the Power Stage rather than risk delaying his fellow Ford driver. Meanwhile, Dennis Kuipers clinched his first point of the campaign by finishing tenth in his FERM Power Tools World Rally Team Fiesta, and admitted to being 'really happy...it's been a tough rally with lots of difficult stages'.
Amongst the re-starters under SupeRally regulations on day three, Khalid Al Qassimi claimed 14th overall following the Saturday accident that had left his co-driver Michael Orr – ironically celebrating his 100th WRC start – nursing broken ribs; Mads Østberg used the opportunity to try out a variety of different set-ups on his M-Sport Stobart Fiesta; and Peter van Merksteijn Jr survived an overshoot on the Power Stage to work his way back to 22nd in his privately-run Citroën DS3 WRC.
The leading Portuguese competitor home was Bruno Magalhaes in twelfth in his brake problem-afflicted Peugeot 207 Super 2000.
Rally de Portugal: Final overall standings (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 4hrs 10mins 53.4secs
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 31.8secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +03mins 22.1secs
4. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi WRT Fiesta RS WRC +06mins 16.3secs
5. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +07mins 48.5secs
6. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC +10mins 17.4secs
7. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC +10mins 54.1secs
8. Federico Villagra
Munchis Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +11mins 38.8secs
9. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +14mins 16.4secs
10. Dennis Kuipers
FERM Powertools Ford Fiesta RS WRC +17mins 54.6secs
14. Khalid Al-Qassimi
Team Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC +27mins 10.1secs
22. Peter Van Merksteijn
Van Merksteijn Citroen DS3 WRC +39mins 39.6secs
31. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC +59mins 29.4secs
Final PWRC standings (Top 3):
1. Hayden Paddon
Subaru Impreza STI 4hrs 33mins 33.4secs
2. Jukka Ketomaki
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +07mins 39.9secs
3. Martin Semerad
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X +09mins 12.6secs
Final WRC Academy standings (Top 3):
1. Egon Kaur
Ford Fiesta R2 3hrs 30mins 13.8secs
2. Victor Henriksson
Ford Fiesta R2 +00mins 16.4secs
3. Christian Riedemann
Ford Fiesta R2 +03mins 31.2secs
Team Quinta do Lorde Fiesta RS WRC Accident on SS7
Monster WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC Crashed in shakedown
all times unofficial
To see the updated WRC points table, click here