Conditions were more benign than the second leg when rock-strewn dirt roads caused carnage among the frontrunners, and Neuville focused on the double pass through the 37.60km Amarante speed test, the longest of this sixth round of the series. He protected his tyres through the two previous stages in the first half and second half loops, before attacking in Amarante. He distanced closest rival Elfyn Evans on both occasions to build a comfortable advantage. “I was comfortable in the car, especially in the long stage. I tried to make a difference in there and it worked twice. It’s not finished yet but it could be a great weekend.
Right behind Neuville, Evans who looks firm for a runner-up spot had won two of the day’s six stages in his Fiesta, one more than Neuville, and the Welshman looked increasingly secure in second as the day progressed. He struggled for confidence in both passes through Amarante but had a 17.4sec margin over the second Hyundai i20 WRC of Dani Sordo. Sordo barely holds on to third (4.7s) and potentially a final podium spot from Teemu Suninen following a final stage spin. Suninen had a stellar day in his Fiesta, holding off fellow Finn Esapekka Lappi in a furious fight. Both were on the limit throughout as they traded seconds in every stage and Lappi ended 11.1sec adrift in his Yaris WRC.
Mads Østberg was a distant sixth, the Norwegian conceding almost a minute after sliding onto a bank at a muddy corner. The Citroën C3 driver was almost 1min 40sec clear of team-mate Craig Breen. There was more disappointment for Kris Meeke in the French squad’s third C3. He slid wide on a fast left bend and his C3 rolled heavily down a bank and into trees. Both Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle were unhurt.
Five more stages covering 51.53km lie in wait on Sunday, including two passes through the classic Fafe test and its famous jump. The second pass forms the Power Stage with bonus points on offer to the fastest five drivers.