Jari-Matti Latvala ended a bleak sequence of results by holding off team-mate Sébastien Ogier to win Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday.
After failing to score in the previous three rounds, Latvala finished 8.2sec ahead of the FIA World Rally Championship leader in the four-day gravel event to claim his first victory since October last year.
Andreas Mikkelsen completed the podium a further 20.4sec behind to provide a clean sweep of the top three for Volkswagen Motorsport with its Polo R car.
“After the last three rallies some people were doubting if I would come back,” said Latvala. “It was one of the worst situations in my rally career so to come and win here is unique. I really appreciate this victory feeling.”
It was the 13th career win for the 30-year-old Finn, who benefited from a low start position and cleaner road conditions to take the lead on Friday afternoon and was never headed.
Despite overshooting a junction yesterday morning, he saw off challenges from firstly Kris Meeke and then Ogier to climb from ninth to fifth in the drivers’ championship.
Tyre choice and management played a crucial role in the first WRC round in the north of the country since 2001. Sandy roads hampered the early starters and exposed rocks offered further difficulties during the second pass of stages.
Ogier endured the worst conditions for the opening two legs, sweeping loose gravel from roads. However, he roared up the leaderboard from sixth to second yesterday, reducing his deficit from almost 26sec to less than eight as he threatened to snatch an unlikely victory.
Second was sufficient for Ogier to extend his championship lead to 42 points after round five of 13.
Mikkelsen led early on his debut in the 2015-specification Polo R and traded seconds with Kris Meeke in their battle for the final podium place. With the gap at 0.4sec, a broken anti-roll bar on Meeke’s DS 3 in the penultimate stage decided the outcome.
Meeke finished 20.1sec behind the Norwegian but the Northern Irishman, who claimed his maiden WRC win in Argentina last month, was the only man able to challenge Volkswagen’s trio.
Ott Tänak finished a confidence-boosting fifth on the debut of the new Ford Fiesta RS, ahead of Hyundai’s Dani Sordo who came out on top of a three car battle for sixth involving team-mate Hayden Paddon and Mads Østberg.
Østberg lost time yesterday with a turbo boost problem in his DS 3 and while he overhauled Paddon today, he fell just 4.3sec short of passing Sordo too. Robert Kubica and Martin Prokop completed the top 10.