Ogier grabs WRC Rally Portugal lead as Rovanpera crashes out

Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier (above) is closing in on a record-breaking sixth WRC Rally Portugal win — providing he can maintain his lead over Hyundai rival Ott Tanak on Sunday’s final leg. 

A dramatic and at times chaotic Saturday on the 2024 FIA World Rally Championship’s fifth round wreaked havoc among the leading drivers, reshuffling the overall places and leaving Ogier with an 11.9s overnight lead.

The eight-time WRC champ’s Toyota Gazoo Racing team began the penultimate leg in a position of dominance, locking out the podium after Friday’s near-perfect opening leg. However, its fortunes took a dive early on Saturday morning when Kalle Rovanpera and Takamoto Katsuta both faltered on the brutal gravel roads.


Overnight leader Rovanpera looked poised to tighten his grip on the top spot after blitzing the morning’s Felgueiras opener, but the two-time and reigning WRC champ misjudged a right-hand turn in Montim shortly afterward and rolled out of contention. Katsuta’s exit was less dramatic, but equally devastating: a rear impact shattered the suspension of his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 as the Japanese driver battled to hold onto third overall. 

Toyota’s hopes now rested on Ogier who, like Rovanpera, is running only a part-time WRC program this season. The Frenchman dueled for the lead with Tanak, briefly relinquishing the position on Amarante 1, before going back in front when the Estonian lost valuable seconds with a deflated tire in the next stage.

Hyundai’s Ott Tanak kept the pressure on Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier until losing precious seconds with a deflated tire. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Although Tanak maintained the pressure with fastest times over the first two stages of the repeated afternoon loop in his Hyundai i20 N Rally1, Ogier responded with a pair of stage wins to widen the gap.

Victory for Ogier on Sunday would put him in rarefied air at one of the WRC’s classic events. Currently, he shares a record-setting five Portuguese wins with Finnish legend Markku Alen, who dominated with Fiat and Lancia in the 1970s and ’80s.

“It’s been a good day,” said Ogier. “A tricky one, and we didn’t expect so many things happening today. Unfortunately, on Toyota’s side it was not a perfect day. For me it was good, but the team lost two cars. Now, we have to try and finish the job tomorrow now.”

The drama for the leading Toyotas was good news for Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville, the WRC points leader ending the day 59.5s behind teammate Tanak after climbing from sixth to third. With his main title rival, Toyota’s Elfyn Evans, languishing in sixth, Neuville is poised to extend his championship lead as his Saturday standing will earn him 13 points — that’s providing he completes Super Sunday.

Neuville passed teammate Dani Sordo on the overall leaderboard after the first stage of the day, but the Spanish part-timer kept in touch, ending the day 14.2s further back to make it three Hyundais in the top four.

Lagging Sordo by only 7.3s was M-Sport Ford’s fifth-placed Adrien Fourmaux, who held a comfortable buffer in his Puma Rally1 of almost two minutes to Evans. Evans shas truggled to get into a rhythm with his GR Yaris, and an early spin exacerbated his challenges.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux has played it steady, but now holds fifth overall after the attrition among the leaders.

In WRC2, the second tier of international rallying, Jan Solans is on the verge of securing his maiden victory in the class following a Saturday that echoed the dramas at the front of the field and allowed the Spaniard to jump from fourth to first.

Several of WRC2’s big names ran into trouble on this penultimate leg. Overnight leader Oliver Solberg was the first casualty. A momentary lapse of concentration while passing Kalle Rovanpera’s stricken Toyota GR Yaris caused him to veer wide, rolling his Skoda Fabia RS into retirement. He will not restart on Sunday.

Solberg’s exit propelled Yohan Rossel, who arrived in Portugal tied in the WRC2 points battle with the Swede, to the forefront. However, the Frenchman’s time at the top didn’t last long as he had to stop to change a wheel on his Citroen C3 in Paredes 1, losing more than 1m30s.

Gus Greensmith became the third leader of the day, but just when it seemed that no more drama was possible, the Briton ran wide on a low-speed right-hand turn during the afternoon’s opening stage and beached his Skoda on an embankment.

At day’s end, Solans led Ireland’s Josh McErlean by just 8.0s, with Rossel just 3.0s further back and everything still to play for.

Jan Solans has a first WRC2 class win in his sights, but the Skoda driver must first survive Sunday’s final leg. McKlein/Motorsport Images

Sunday’s final leg consists of four stages, with Cabeceiras de Basto and Fafe each running twice to make up a short, sharp 38.64 competitive miles. The second 6.95-mile blast through the twists and iconic jumps of Fafe is the rally-closing, bonus points-paying Wolf Power Stage.    

WRC Rally Portugal, positions after Leg Two, SS18
1 Sebastien Ogier/Vincent Landais (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3h01m55.8s
2 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +11.9s
3 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m11.4s
4 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +1m25.6s
5 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1) +1m32.9s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +3m23.8s
7 Nikolay Gryazin/Konstantin Aleksandrov (Citroen C3 – WRC2, non-points) +9m25.5s
8 Jan Solans/Rodrigo Sanjuan (Toyota GR Yaris – WRC2 leader) +9m35.2s
9 Josh McErlean/James Fulton (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +9m43.2s
10 Yohan RosselArnaud Dunand (Citroen C3 – WRC2) +9m46.8s

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Story originally appeared on Racer