Ott Tanak fends off stiff competition to take his third win of the 2019 WRC season at Rally Portugal.
Toyota Gazoo Racing’s Ott Tanak & Martin Jarveoja claimed their second back-to-back win of the season at this year’s Rally Portugal. The Rally Chile winner, however, had to fend off intense competition from his teammates Kris Meeke and Jari-Mati Latvala, prior to their eventual retirements from the rally. Meanwhile, Thierry Neuville & Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT) managed to claim the second spot, followed by championship leaders Sebastien Ogier & Julien Ingrassia (Citroen Total WRT) rounding off the top three. M-Sport Ford drivers Teemu Suninen & Elfyn Evans rounded off the top-five, respectively.
Proceedings at the Rally Portugal began with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo leading the rest of the pack by 4.2 seconds at the end of SS1. However, by the end of SS2, Sordo and Tanak were nearly neck-and-neck as the Spaniard (Sordo) only had a 0.5 second lead over Tanak. The entire Toyota Gazoo Racing contingent started showing signs of domination as Tanak, Latvala and Meeke were bearing down hard on Sordo with Meeke in fourth, behind Sordo by just 8.7 seconds at the end of SS2. However, hit by fuel pressure issues during SS3, Sordo was immediately out of contention as the battle for the top spot was now between the three Toyota Gazoo Racing drivers.
By SS5, Ogier and Neuville had recovered lost ground and were shuffling in fourth and fifth. By the end of SS11, Tanak had a sizeable 14.8-second lead over second-placed Latvala. However, Day 2 ended on a very challenging note for Latvala and Tanak as both suffered broken dampers on their Yaris WRCs. Things went particularly bad for Latvala as he had to retire his car by the end of SS13, the final stage of Day 2. This ended his challenge immediately. Meanwhile, Tanak continued with a broken damper but inevitably his pace was reduced significantly. After the final two stages of the day (SS12 & SS13), Tanak’s lead shrunk to just 4.3 seconds over his teammate Meeke. Meanwhile, not too far behind, Neuville and Ogier managed to hold on to their spots behind the Toyota Gazoo Racing duo.
As the proceedings began on the final day of Rally Portugal, Kris Meeke continued hounding Tanak as after SS16, Meeke was just 2.4 seconds behind Tanak. But, Tanak upped his pace to increase the lead to 8.1 seconds by the end of SS18. In the penultimate stage (SS19) though, things took a drastic turn as Meeke slipped into third place, behind Neuville, due to a costly spin. This was a kind of a repeat of how Meeke’s challenge to Tanak came to a close in the previous round, Rally Chile.
The final power stage (SS20) saw a lot of retirements, with Kris Meeke being one of them. After the costly spin, he ended up crashing into a tree stump and was forced to retire due to a broken suspension. Ogier’s teammate Lappi saw his run come to an end at the end of SS17 as he too broke his suspension. Hyundai’s Loeb too had troublesome progress as he was also plagued by the same fuel pressure problem as teammate Sordo. However, he managed to run the entire rally only to wreck the rear-left of his Hyundai i20 in the final power stage, resulting in his retirement as well. Both M-Sport Ford drivers Suninen and Evans also had a tough time salvaging fourth and fifth places, respectively, as the former faced braking issues and the latter suffered from a disconnected throttle sensor.
After Rally Portugal, Sebastien Ogier manages to hold on to a slim lead of just two points (142 points) over second-placed Ott Tanak (140 points). Behind Tanak by just 8 points, Thierry Neuville continues to sit in third place (132 points) in the overall driver standings.