SÉBASTIEN Ogier holds a 38.1 sec advantage going into the final day of Vodafone Rally de Portugal after taking the lead from Mikko Hirvonen with a dominant drive in the hills above the Algarve region.
The Volkswagen Polo R pilot won five of Saturday’s six gravel stages; just three short tests remain on Sunday.
Ogier relegated Hirvonen from top spot in the second stage and ended the morning with a slender 2.4sec advantage. The world champion was untouchable in the afternoon, reeling off three straight wins after opting for soft tyres on the drying abrasive roads.
“It was a great run and in the end I didn’t push so hard. We had good management of the tyres,” he said.
Hirvonen used the same soft compound, but his rubber was almost worn to the canvas.
“I started to get scared we would get a puncture. I would have liked to carry the fight all the way through but we weren’t able to do it,” the Ford Fiesta RS driver said.
Mads Østberg lies third in a Citroen DS3, 48.6sec behind Hirvonen. He replaced Ott Tänak in a podium place when the Estonian rolled his Fiesta RS, at the point where Jari-Matti Latvala plunged almost 200 metres down a hillside in 2009.
Dani Sordo is fourth in the first of three Hyundai i20s, with Henning Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen completing the top six, despite power steering issues for Mikkelsen in the afternoon.
Martin Prokop is seventh ahead of Juho Hänninen, who dropped time in his Hyundai with two punctures and a broken driveshaft.
Hyundai number one Thierry Neuville was a comfortable fifth until he hit the rear of his i20 in the penultimate stage and broke a suspension link. He nursed the car through the final test but dropped more than five minutes and lies ninth.
WRC 2 leader Nasser Al-Attiyah completes the leaderboard in 10th.
Robert Kubica went off the road in the morning and burned out the clutch of his Fiesta RS trying to regain the road. He won’t return for the final day.
Kris Meeke did not restart after his Cirtroen DS3’s roll cage was damaged in Friday’s crash.