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Leg report
WRC Rally Portugal

WRC Portugal: Rovanpera maintains lead, Neuville loses podium

Kalle Rovanpera edged closer to a first World Rally Championship win of the season after maintaining his Rally Portugal lead on Sunday morning, while Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville hit trouble.

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

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

The Toyota driver will head into the event's final stage with a 47.8s lead over Hyundai’s Dani Sordo.

Hyundai’s Esapekka Lappi inherited third, 1m17.8s back, from team-mate Neuville, who dropped to fifth and is now 6m35.0s off after nursing a severely underpowered i20 N through the morning loop. M-Sport’s Ott Tanak climbed to a lonely fourth, 2m03.4s off the oveall lead, virtue of Neuville’s dramas. 

The morning started in a disastrous fashion for Neuville courtesy of a suspected turbo issue that significantly reduced the power of his i20 N.

Smoke was seen coming from Neuville’s car at Saturday night’s media zone although it is unclear if the two circumstances are connected.

However, the problem effectively ended his podium hopes and the potential for Hyundai to deploy team orders to elevate Neuville ahead of team-mate Sordo into second overall.

As a result, Neuville lost 1m26.4s on stage 16, Paredes 11.05km, demoting him from third to fifth overall.

"It's over. It's something similar to yesterday evening... we have to find out,” said a frustrated Neuville.

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta, who retired on Friday, won the stage to claim his first fastest time of the event, beating rally leader and team-mate Rovanpera by 1.8s, with the Finn electing for a measured approach to protect his lead.

"It seems that we were still too fast,” said Rovanpera. “I don't know how slow we should drive because it feels so slow. We were just saving the tyres.”

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

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

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

Sordo came through the test with the third quickest time, 7.7s faster than Lappi, who inherited third overall due to Neuville’s problems, while electing to save his tyres in the stage. 

Although, Tanak climbed to fourth overall, the Estonian’s Puma was without hybrid power.

"The hybrid didn't like the short night - it seems like this car is not waking up today,” said Tanak.

Rovanpera further extended his rally lead by winning stage 17, the first run through the iconic Fafe test which will host the final Power Stage.

The Finn pipped Lappi by 0.2s while Tanak, still struggling without hybrid, was a further two tenths back.

Neuville attempted to repair the problem with his i20 N on the road section prior to the test but was unable to find a fix and lost another 1m32.9s but remained in fifth overall. He lost another 2m50.2s across the final test of the morning.

Tanak took the honours in stage 18 (Cabeceiras de Basto 22.01km) with a 9.7s margin over Sordo, who took a chunk out of Rovanpera’s lead given the latter adopted a careful approach ahead of the Power Stage.

In WRC2, Gus Greensmith led the class although a power steering issue brought Oliver Solberg back into play after the Swede lost the lead overnight to a one-minute penalty for performing illegal doughnuts in Saturday night's super special.

Solberg closed a 24.6s gap to 8.7s ahead of the final stage this afternoon. 

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