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Highlights from day three of WRC Rally Portugal 2011. Video courtesy of JMLatvalaFan.

The third and final day of this year’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal saw a near-perfect result for the Citroen Total World Rally Team. The third round of the 2011 FIA World Rally Championship saw the series’ third rally winner, with the overall honours going to Sebastien Ogier for the second year in a row. Second place went to team-mate Sebastien Loeb with the added bonus of the win on the Power Stage, giving him an additional three points. Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team driver Jari-Matti Latvala claimed the third podium position after three fraught days of competition.

The last day comprised four stages, run as two loops of two stages, including the longest, the 31.04Km Santana da Serra test ending the event as the Power Stage. However, rain on the penultimate stage looked like it might decide the outcome of the event, rather than the pace of the drivers.

The first run through the Silves stage set the scene for the final day. Sebastien Loeb backed off the normal pace to avoid putting team-mate Ogier - who had a healthy lead – under pressure and forcing a mistake. The Ford team was back on form though, with Mikko Hirvonen snatching fourth place back from Matthew Wilson on the day’s opener.

The following stage looked to be a practice run for the afternoon’s Power Stage, with Petter Solberg going fastest, as he sought the ideal set-up and approach for the additional points. Mads Ostberg followed suit, setting the second fastest time but unlike Solberg, was unable to make any real gains in the overall standings, thanks to the time lost on the first day.

Ford’s bad luck soon returned though, with Mikko Hirvonen suffering a broken driveshaft in the stage and at one point, not even sure he would be able to negotiate a long uphill climb. He did however, and returned to service at the Algarve Stadium for repairs.

PWRC leader Hayden Paddon has a scare on the stage, when the rear suspension on his Subaru failed and he dropped two minutes limping to the end. However, issues for second-placed Benito Guerra meant that his lead actually increased by a minute despite the problems.

But it was the first stage after the mid-day service that looked as though it might prove the deciding factor. Rain began to fall on the start and finish lines of the stage and this gradually increased in ferocity, as well as moving across the full length of the stage as the crews tackled the penultimate test.

Photo: Willy Weyens - Rallyworld

The top 20 cars were now running in reverse order for the Power Stage and with the increasing rain, the stage became more and more slippery for every passing car. Solberg and Ostberg were fastest and second-fastest respectively, covering the stage before the worst of the rain fell and getting ready for the Power Stage. This helped Solberg to climb from ninth to seventh with just one stage to go.

Mikko Hirvonen had an uneventful run but team-mate and early rally leader Jari-Matti Latvala complained that his car was set up for dry conditions and he could not get it to turn in to the corners to his liking.

But it was the two Citroen drivers who were the most down-beat. Both suffered the worst of the rain mid-stage and by the end, admitted that they would not be pushing hard on the Power Stage in similar conditions, preferring to safeguard their first and second positions overall.

But as it transpired, the final timed test was mainly dry and as the early cars passed, it became cleaner and drier. Petter Solberg held the early lead, watching the live TV coverage at the stage end anxiously. However, he would not hold the honours for long: while Mikko Hirvonen was slowed by suspension damage, Latvala came through and demoted the Norweigian to second, with just the two Citroens to come. However, Solberg had done enough to pass Kimi Raikkonen and claim sixth position, behind Matthew Wilson.

Clearly both Citroen drivers had revised their game-plans and Loeb, running ahead of Ogier on the road, set a blistering time to claim the eventual fastest time and with it, the three additional points. All eyes were on 2010 rally winner Ogier, who ultimately finished the stage third fastest, behind Latvala, ensuring that the Citroen team took first and second, ahead of Ford’s Latvala.

In the PWRC, Hayden Paddon took a well-deserved win on the first round of the 2011 series, after negotiating his way round some of the harshest conditions he said he had faced in his career, as well as several technical issues. Second place eventually went to Jukka Ketomaki, who said he would never have believed he would claim the runners-up spot after problems on the first day. In third was Martin Semerad, the Czech driver grateful that tyre supplier DMACK had been allowed to change its nomination on safety grounds.

Top of the field for the local drivers was Bruno Magalhaes in the Peugeot 207 Super2000 while Pedro Meireles claimed the Portuguese national championship honours.

This year, the standing stage records from last year’s events were all smashed, with the exception of the Silves stage, which was dry in 2010 and of course, wet in 2011. This demonstrates not only performance of the new breed of World Rally Cars but also, the care and effort that maintains the roads which make up the stages in the stunning Algarve region of Portugal.



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