Latvala holds off Ogier to conquer Portugal
Having won the shakedown in his first competitive drive of the new and improved 2015 VW Polo R, Andreas Mikkelsen was eager to maintain his performance and got a head start in Special Stage 1 of Rally Portugal. In front of a huge audience, Mikkelsen battled with Elfyn Evans, and finished the first stage in front of Ogier. On stage two, it was Spainard Dani Sordo who claimed the lead, in front of Ott Tänak who had taken advantage of Mikkelsen’s adaptation period.
Championship leader Sébastien Ogier had no luck – he punctured the rear right tyre on his Polo R midway through and dropped 12sec. After the stage ended, Kris Meeke and Jari-Matti Latvala were fourth and fifth in Citroën DS 3 and a Polo R respectively, to hold the same positions overall ahead of Ogier in sixth. Also, organizers battled with nature in an 18-hour battle to bring forest fires under control near the stage.
Latvala has taken the lead after Stage 4, and forest fires forced the cancellation of Stage 5, the second pass through Ponte de Lima stage. Stage 6 was won by Sébastien Ogier who finally found his momentum. He was fastest by 2.6sec in his Volkswagen Polo R from teammate and leader Jari-Matti Latvala, with Ott Tänak a tenth of a second further back in a Ford Fiesta RS.
Saturday opened with Baião, a demanding stage won by Andreas Mikkelsen. Latvala made an error by overshooting a junction, but recovered to set second fastest time in the slippery Marão, the Stage 9, won by Kris Meeke. Second and third fastest times promoted Ogier from sixth to fourth and the Frenchman is 21.8s off Latvala’s lead.
Meeke continued his streak on Stage 10 as well, closing to within 6.1sec of Latvala. Ogier progressed through the leaderboard by winning on Stage 11, but Latvala, who was the second in both SS11 and SS12 was still in the lead.
Volkswagen made the battle interesting by confirming that there will be no team orders, which meant that Latvala and Ogier are free to battle until the end of the rally. Sunday was opened with Ogier’s win in Stage 14, reducing the gap to just 7.8s. Andreas Mikkelsen was third and regained third overall in his Polo R by outpacing Kris Meeke by 1.5sec. However, the effort wasn’t good enough since Latvala managed to hold off his team mate and score a victory in Portugal’s Stage 15.
Latvala humbly thanked his co-driver Miikka Antilla for the victory: We talked before the stage because I knew we couldn’t keep the car in the ruts in the previous one. Miikka said to me ‘concentrate, concentrate’. Then 5km into the stage he said ‘you’re going great, fantastic’, and that gave me confidence that I will do it,” he said. Andreas Mikkelsen was on third, completing an another 1-2-3 VW podium, while Ott Tänak finished fourth.
Ogier is still leading the championship with Mikkelsen and Ostberg behind him. Kris Meeke is on fourth and is followed by Rally Portugal’s winner Latvala.