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WRC Portugal: Relentless Rovanpera in control after Saturday domination

Toyota’s Kalle Rovanpera dominated Saturday’s stages to extend his World Rally Championship Rally Portugal lead over Hyundai’s Dani Sordo heading into the final day.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

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The reigning world rally champion won five of the day’s seven tests to transform an overnight 10.8s advantage into a 57.5s lead, as the Finn moved closer to a first WRC win since New Zealand last October.

Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville leapfrogged team-mate Esapekka Lappi to claim third, with 2.3s splitting the duo. M-Sport’s Ott Tanak ended Saturday in a lonely fifth driving the sole remaining Ford Puma after team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet retired on stage 10.

Rovanpera was once again the driver to beat when action resumed in the afternoon, as the Finn extended his perfect start to Saturday by scoring his fourth consecutive stage win on the event's 12th test.

Rovanpera completed the second pass of Vieira do Minho, which he blitzed in the morning, with a 2.8s margin over nearest rival Sordo and admitted that he was now managing his pace.

In the battle between the three chasing Hyundais, Sordo was a tenth faster than Lappi, who in turn managed to pull 4.9s on Neuville in the battle for third.

Sordo ended Rovanpera’s streak of stage wins on the 37.24km Amarante test. Electing to push and cement his second place, the Spaniard managed to score his second stage win of the event and pipped Rovanpera by 0.7s.

“I was a little bit scared of [wearing out] the tyres but we decided we needed to try to push,” said Sordo.

The battle for third took another twist as Neuville snatched the position from Lappi, despite struggling for confidence behind the wheel of his i20 N. Neuville was 8.5s faster than Lappi.

Tanak was also frustrated with his Puma, resulting in the Estonian dropping 27.7s as he continued to fight his car.

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

"It's frustrating for myself as well but it's a difficult weekend,” said Tanak. “It's hard when you can't be where you want to be. There's nothing we can do at the moment.”

Rovanpera resumed his domination of Saturday on stage 14 to claim his eighth stage win of the event. The rally leader was 2.4s faster than Lappi through the 8.81km Felgueiras test.

After losing a spot to Neuville in the previous stage, Lappi nibbled 0.5s out of his Belgian team-mate to reduced the gap between the pair to 2.2s heading into the day’s final stage.

Sordo could only set the fifth fastest time, which meant the gap to leader Rovanpera extended to 59.4s.

A packed crowd greeted crews for the side-by-side Lousada super special won by Sordo. He defeated Rovanpera, minus his intercom, by 1.9s in their duel.

Neuville edged Lappi by 0.1s in their contest while Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta, who rejoined the rally after an alternator failure on Friday, beat Tanak in their head-to-head.

Sitting sixth overall, Oliver Solberg maintained his WRC2 lead over Toksport Skoda team-mate Gus Greensmith to take a 35.4s advantage into Sunday’s final four stages.

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