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TOYOTA’S Ott Tänak fought off intense pressure to claim his second-straight FIA World Rally Championship win in an action-packed final day on Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday.

PHOTO: Ott Tänak flies high to victory over Vodafone Rally de Portugal’s famous Fafe jump (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)

Don’t miss Vodafone Rally de Portugal 1-hour highlights on 10 BOLD and 3pm (AEST) Saturday 8 June

The win, also his third of the season after Sweden and Chile, boosted the Estonian to within two points of championship leader Sébastien Ogier.

Driving a Toyota Yaris, Tänak finished the hot and dusty, three-day gravel contest 15.9sec clear of Thierry Neuville, in a Hyundai i20. Ogier clinched his sixth podium in seven rounds in a Citroen C3, a further 41.2sec behind.

The result at the halfway point in the 14-round championship left just 10 points between Ogier, Tänak and Neuville, the same trio whose intense rivalry went down to the final day of the final round at Kennards Hire Rally Australia last November. The WRC returns to the New South Wales Coffs Coast for the 2019 finale on 14-17 November.

PHOTO: Ott Tanak (right) and co-driver Martin Jarveoja celebrate their Vodafone Rally de Portugal win with Toyota Gazoo Racing teammates (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)

After taking the lead in northern Portugal on Friday morning, Tänak repelled challenges from Toyota Gazoo Racing teammates Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke and also overcame brake and suspension problems in his Yaris.

“This is one of my hardest victories ever. We had a big fight and some small issues but managed to win it. Before the rally it was looking tough. It wasn’t looking too bad on Friday but yesterday lunchtime it was looking quite bad,” Tänak said of his ninth career victory.

In a strategic twist, Tänak sacrificed extra points in the event-closing Wolf Power Stage to ensure he does not have the disadvantage of starting first at the next round in Italy, which is also on a gravel surface. He slowed in the closing metres to ensure Ogier took maximum bonus points and will open the road.

Meeke closed to within 2.4sec of Tänak during the morning before spinning out of second place. He then crashed into a tree stump and wrecked his car’s suspension in the Power Stage.

Meeke’s demise handed Neuville second-place points, a valuable boost for the Belgian after he crashed out of Rally Chile in a spectacular multiple rollover two weeks ago.

M-Sport Ford teammates Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans finished fourth and fifth in Fiestas, but Esapekka Lappi suffered a crushing final-day retirement. The Finn firstly rolled his Citroën and then exited with broken rear suspension after swiping a bank.

Eighteen-year-old WRC 2 Pro winner Kalle Rovanperä scored a career-best result in sixth outright ahead of  Jari-Matti Latvala, who regained ground after stopping with similar suspension problems to Tänak on Saturday.

Jan Kopecký, WRC 2 winner Pierre-Louis Loubet and Emil Bergkvist completed the leaderboard.

Briton Gus Greensmith’s World Rally Car debut ended in disappointment when he crashed his M-Sport Fiesta spectacularly in the final stage at the famous Fafe jump after suspension failure.

Nine-time champion Sébastien Loeb was another late casualty, retiring his i20 after hitting a bank in the same test.

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RESULTS, Vodafone Rally de Portugal (WRC Rd 7 of 14):

1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 3h20m22.8s
2 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +15.9s
3 Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +57.1s
4 Teemu Suninen/Marko Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +2m41.5s
5 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Ford Fiesta WRC) +7m08.3s
6 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Skoda Fabia R5 Evo) +10m34.2s
7 Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +11m28.2s
8 Jan Kopecky/Pavel Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5 Evo) +11m41.9s
9 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (Skoda Fabia R5) +12m46.3s
10 Emil Bergkvist/Patrik Barth (Ford Fiesta R5) +14m28.4s

WRC Drivers’ Standings:

1 S. Ogier 142
2 O. Tanak 140
3 T. Neuville 132
4 E. Evans 65
5 K. Meeke 56
6 T. Suninen 44
7 S. Loeb 39
8 J-M Latvala 38
9 A. Mikkelsen 36
10 E. Lappi 34

WRC Manufacturers’ Standings:

1 Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team 202
2 Toyota Gazoo Racing World Rally Team 182
3 Citroën Total World Rally Team 158
4 M-Sport Ford World Rally Team 122

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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