The World Rally Championship returns to Europe for Round 7 on the sun scorched stages of Rally Portugal.
The opening day of the event saw the three Toyota’s of Ott Tanak, Jari-Matti Latvala & Kris Meeke duke it out; with the Hyundai of Dani Sordo the only one able to live with the blistering pace set by the trio of Toyota’s.
Dani Sordo’s charge came to a premature end on stage three, his Hyundai succumbing to fuel pressure issues. Championship leader Sebastien Ogier meanwhile lost time throughout the Friday, the Frenchman was the first car on the road meaning he was sweeping the stages clear of loose gravel, losing precious time in the process and allowing the competition a quicker run through the stage.
Further back, Teemu Sunninen struggled with brake issues in his Ford Fiesta losing large chunks of time in the afternoon. Further bad luck would befall the factory Ford squad as Elfyn Evans would stop for 4 minutes to fix a throttle issue on his Ford Fiesta.
The three Toyota’s meanwhile battled it out with one another trading fastest times throughout the day. Ott Tanak would finish the day as the leader with Jari-Matti Latvala in second and Kris Meeke in third, Thierry Neuville recovered to fourth by days end after a cautious run in the morning; a delayed Sebastien Ogier due to his poor road position rounded out the top 5.
Day 2 saw the broiling Portugese heat start to take its toll on the cars. The Toyota’s which started the day in first, second and third would not finish the day as they began.
Ott Tanak found himself struggling with brake issues throughout the day, the heat starting to take its toll. Tanak started losing time and his lead was steadily being chipped away by the chasing Latvala, but Latvala would find himself next in line for problems.
During the afternoon, Latvala carried too much speed over one of Portugals many jumps. The result was a heavy landing which destroyed the front right damper on his Toyota, Latvala’s hard work came to nought as he had no choice but to retire.
Kris Meeke meanwhile led the charge against his team-mate, but Meeke’s handbrake broke early on in the final stage of the day; although Meeke lost time, he still managed to hang onto second place. Neuville had found his rhythm in his Hyundai and had closed right up. The top 4 cars heading into the final day are separated by just over 10 seconds.
The final day of the rally got off to a dramatic start. A resurgent Esapekka Lappi, who had climbed up from eighth to fifth on Day two crashed out of the rally in the morning. Lappi clipped a bank sending the car into a low speed roll. Unfortunately, the slow roll was enough to break the rear suspension on his Citroen C3, taking Lappi out of the rally, a crushing blow for the young Finn.
The final stage on the legendary Fafe stage saw high drama unfold. Gus Greensmith in his first event in a WRC car had been enjoying a strong consistent run; that was brought to a close as he crested the legendary jump on the Fafe stage, as he landed the suspension broke on his Ford Fiesta spinning him into the bank on the drivers right and pinballing the car into the bank on the other side of the stage; Greensmiths day, was done.
Further drama was in store as Sebastien Loeb crashed in the final stage as he crashed his Hyundai into a bank, forcing him to call time on his day. The cruellest blow of the day was reserved for Toyota’s Kris Meeke.
Kris Meeke looked set to take a strong second place finish after a sterling drive over the weekend, but it wasn’t to be. Meeke’s bad luck reared its head once again and a small error saw Meeke collide with a tree stump breaking the suspension on his Toyota Yaris. It was a bitter blow and Meeke retired on the final stage.
After a rally that turned into a war of attrition, Ott Tanak took a hard fought victory in the punishing heat and dust of Portugal, the results are as follows:
- Ott Tanak
- Thierry Neuville
- Sebastian Ogier
- Teemu Sunninen
- Elfyn Evans
At the halfway point of the season, the championship has devolved into a three way fight for the championship; just 10 points separate the top three.
- Sebastien Ogier – 142 points
- Ott Tanak – 140 points
- Thierry Neuville – 132 points
- Elfyn Evans – 65 points
- Kris Meeke – 56 points
At the close of the event, Volkswagen has opened an investigation into why 5 of their R5 category Polo’s caught fire, VW has enlisted the assistance of outside agencies specialising in fire causation and prevention. This is not the first time this year that a VW Polo R5 has caught fire, Eric Camilli’s Polo caught fire in Corsica which brought one of the stages to a close.
The next round of the championship is Rally Italia Sardegna and will take place June 13th to June 16th.