Ott Tänak withstood intense pressure to claim his second consecutive 2019 FIA World Rally Championship victory in an action-packed finale in Portugal on Sunday afternoon.
He claimed a third triumph of the season at Vodafone Rally de Portugal, his second in a row following last month’s success in Chile, to move within two points of championship leader Sébastien Ogier.
Driving a Toyota Yaris, Tänak finished the hot and dusty dirt road encounter 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.
After taking the lead on Friday morning, Tänak repelled challenges from Toyota Gazoo Racing team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke and also overcame brake and suspension problems in his Yaris to score a ninth career victory.
“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,” said the Estonian.
In a bizarre twist, Tänak sacrificed extra points in the final Wolf Power Stage to ensure he does not have the disadvantage of starting first at the next round in Italy. 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 this morning before spinning out of second place. He then crashed into a tree stump and wrecked his car’s suspension in the final stage.
His retirement promoted Neuville into second. The Belgian trails Ogier by only 10 points at the season midpoint in another enthralling three-way title fight.
M-Sport Ford team-mates Teemu Suninen and Elfyn Evans finished fourth and fifth in Fiestas after a crushing final day retirement for Esapekka Lappi. The Finn firstly rolled his C3 and then exited with broken rear suspension after swiping a bank.
WRC 2 Pro winner Kalle Rovanperä scored a career-best result in sixth ahead of Latvala, who regained ground after stopping with similar suspension problems to Tänak on Saturday.
Vodafone Rally de Portugal final positions:
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris 3hr 20min 22.8sec
2. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +15.9sec
3. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Citroën C3 +57.1sec
4. T Suninen / M Salminen FIN Ford Fiesta +2min 41.5sec
5. E Evans / S Martin GBR Ford Fiesta +7min 08.3sec
6. K Rovanperä / J Halttunen FIN Skoda Fabia +10min 34.2sec
FIA World Rally Championship (after round 7 of 14)
1. S Ogier 142pts
2. O Tänak 140pts
3. T Neuville 132pts