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WRC Portugal: Ogier holds rally lead, Evans hit by overheating drama

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier maintained a slender Rally Portugal lead over Hyundai’s Ott Tanak, while World Rally Championship title hopeful Elfyn Evans suffered an overheating issue. 

Thick fog provided a curveball for the field, but it failed to derail Ogier as the eight-time world champion led Tanak by 10.1s after the morning’s three stages. 

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville held onto third [+1m12.1s], while M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux [+1m44.0s] leapfrogged Hyundai’s Dani Sordo [+2m44.2s] into fourth.

Toyota’s Evans completed the three stages, but an overheating issue put his rally in jeopardy, forcing Evans and co-driver Scott Martin to attempt a fix on a road section, before heading to the regroup. M-Sport’s Gregoire Munster also hit trouble when his Puma became beached in stage 21.     

Fog that intensified with every pass made driving conditions incredibly difficult for the day’s opening stage [Cabeceiras de Basto, 19.91km].

Hyundai’s Sordo was among those seeming affected by the conditions as the Spaniard lost grip of fourth overall and slipped behind Fourmaux, who was fourth fastest on the stage after battling an intermittent intercom issue.

“I tried to do a good stage but lost a lot of time at the end because we had an issue with the intercom, and I couldn’t hear Alex [Coria – co-driver]. With the weather we have, I should’ve gone mushroom picking,” said Fourmaux.

Sordo was extremely cautious through the stage losing 40.7s and initially appeared to be carrying a problem, before confirming at stage end that there was no issue with his i20 N.

“It was just very foggy and I was really bad, the car was understeering a lot. It was so difficult to drive like this,” said Sordo.  

Despite the worsening conditions, Ogier delivered his seventh stage win of the event to open up a healthy overall lead and move to the top the Super Sunday standings. The Toyota driver was 3.3s faster than Neuville, while rally rival Tanak dropped 6.2s as his victory hopes began to fade.

In the battle for the WRC2 honours, Ireland’s Josh McErlean managed to cut the gap to leader Jan Solans to 3.0s.

The thick fog rolled into the iconic Fafe [Stage 20, 11.18km], with the poor visibility testing the crews to their limits.

Tanak produced a brave drive in the challenging conditions to win the stage by 4.0s from Neuville while taking 4.5s out of rally leader Ogier to bring the gap down 13.6s.

Evans emerged from the fog 5.3s adrift to keep himself in the hunt for the Super Sunday points, sitting fourth in the final day classification.

Fourmaux extended his margin over Sordo in the fight for fourth overall to 36.0s as the latter continued to struggle with the poor visibility.

“It is difficult when you can’t see the road,” said Sordo.

Kalle Rovanpera, who rejoined the rally following his roll from the lead on Saturday, was slowest of the Rally1 runners. The Finn dropped 23.6s to stage winner Tanak after admitting that he was saving his tyres for the Power Stage given the disadvantage of starting first on the road.

Team-mate Takamoto Katsuta, who also restarted on Sunday, lost time to a hybrid issue on his GR Yaris.   

The lead of the WRC2 class changed hands as McErlean managed to beat Solans by 3.1s to move into a 0.1s rally lead, before losing that lead to Solans on stage 21 to the tune of 6.4s.

Tanak won the final stage of the morning by 1.4s from Neuville as the Estonian again took a nibble out of Ogier’s lead. The stage win was enough to haul Tanak ahead of Ogier to the top of the Super Sunday standings by 1.8s. Neuville held third in the Sunday classification ahead of Fourmaux, Katsuta, Rovanpera and Sordo. 

The rally will conclude following this afternoon’s Fafe Power Stage.

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