Finland’s Kalle Rovanperä more than quadrupled his Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead on this morning’s loop of three stages with a trio of fastest times aboard his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1 Hybrid.
Co-driven by Jonne Halttunen, the defending world champion left his rivals floundering in the dust as he posted a hat-trick of benchmark times to increase his 10.8s overnight advantage to a whopping 52.4s.
Rovanperä completed the Vieira do Minho opener 12.8s faster than anybody else and outpaced nearest challenger Dani Sordo by 21.7s on the 37.24-kilometre Amarante test. He was again quicker than the Hyundai-powered Spaniard through Felgueiras, closing off a perfect loop.
“I just woke up today and thought that we should drive a bit of rally,” said the Finn. “We have done a few good mornings [before now], but this was a really good one. The whole loop was good, and we will try to continue like this.”
Sordo hasn’t just lost touch with the rally leader, he’s also come under increasing pressure from Hyundai team-mate Esapekka Lappi, reaching the service halt only 4.6s clear of the Finn.
Lappi was third quickest on the day’s first stage, demoting Thierry Neuville – who ended the loop just 0.9s behind – in the process.
Neuville struggled to keep his Hyundai i20 N Rally1 Hybrid’s rear end in line and, despite making set-up tweaks, felt that further improvements were possible.
“We did a big change on the set-up [before SS11] which was a little bit better, but every time the rear goes wide,” he explained. “I just cannot commit on the entry [of corners] without having a moment on the exit.”
Pierre-Louis Loubet retired close to the finish of Amarante when a heavy impact damaged his Ford Puma Rally1’s steering. His M-Sport Ford team-mate Ott Tänak was elevated to fifth as a result and now trails Neuville by 36.2s.
FIA WRC2 cars filled the remainder of the top 10. Oliver Solberg’s lead was eaten into by Gus Greensmith, his fellow Škoda-driving Toksport driver, and Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2), while Andreas Mikkelsen and Marco Bulacia complete the top 10 after 11 stages.
Bulacia is the FIA WRC2 Challlenger leader, Roope Korhonen is ahead in FIA WRC3 with Alexander Villanueva on top in WRC Masters.
The rally resumes with the repeat of the Vieira do Minho stage from 15h05 local time.