Championship leader Elfyn Evans heads the strongest WRC 2 entry of the season at this week’s Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
The first European gravel round of the campaign has attracted 26 competitors and the Welshman knows that a single slip at the wheel of his Ford Fiesta R5 will allow his rivals to eat into his 20-point advantage.
Second-placed Hubert Ptaszek is the only driver who can displace Evans from top spot. To do so, the Pole must win with Evans failing to score, and Ptaszek has boosted his chances by reverting to the Skoda Fabia R5 in which he began the season after two rounds in a Peugeot 208 T16.
Nicolas Fuchs, whose win at the previous round in Argentina promoted him to third in the points, also drives a Fabia R5 while another to watch out for is Teemu Suninen. The young Finn piloted his Fiesta R5 to victory in Mexico, his only outing so far this year.
Other front-runners include Pontus Tidemand, sixth in the points after finishing second in Sweden, Qatar’s Abdulaziz Al-Kuwari and Frenchman Quentin Gilbert, who claimed a podium in the season-opening Rallye Monte-Carlo. And keep an eye out for last year’s European junior champion Emil Bergkvist in Citroën’s DS 3 R5.
Many drivers begin their season in Portugal. Likely contenders among those are Skoda Motorsport’s Jan Kopecky, a category winner in Germany last year, and Australian Scott Pedder, who has swapped the Fiesta R5 he drove in 2015 for a Fabia R5.
Other season debutants include Belgians Ghislain de Mevius and Cedric Cherain and Hungarian Frigyes Turan.
Thierry Neuville was fastest in Thursday morning's shakedown at Vodafone Rally de Portugal as Hyundai claimed the top two times.
The Belgian was 0.3sec quicker than i20 World Rally Car team-mate Dani Sordo through the 4.61km Baltar test, with Ott Tanak completing the top three in a Ford Fiesta RS a tenth of a second further back.
Tanak, using DMACK's new British-built tyres for the first time, was fastest through the opening two passes of the test on soft compound rubber. However, Neuville moved to the top of the timesheets on the third of his four runs.
"It's a good start to the weekend but it’s what happens on the rally itself that really matters," said Neuville. "It was nice to have a good feeling with the car. We tested ahead of the rally and have some new differential settings which make me feel more comfortable."
Kris Meeke, returning to WRC action for the first time since February's Rally Sweden, was fourth in Citroen’s DS 3 with Volkswagen Polo R duo Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen tied in fifth, just two-tenths behind the Briton.
None of the leading World Rally Car drivers suffered major problems but in WRC 2 season debutant Scott Pedder rolled his new Skoda Fabia R5.
Sebastien Ogier won Thursday night’s opening speed test at Vodafone Rally de Portugal despite a boost problem on the startline at Lousada rallycross circuit.
He outpaced Hayden Paddon by 2.6sec in the headline heat on the 3.36km mixed surface special stage, but the Frenchman was concerned by the issue in his Volkswagen Polo R.
“I had no boost from the engine for the first few hundred metres but then it came back. I hope the team can quickly check what it is and solve the problem,” said Ogier, whose car will be in the hands of the mechanics for less than 20 minutes at the start of tomorrow’s leg.
Ogier was 0.9sec quicker than Thierry Neuville’s Hyundai i20, who this morning was fastest at shakedown. The Belgian’s team-mate, Dani Sordo, was a further three-tenths slower.
“I’m quite confident,” said Neuville. “I enjoyed the stage with all the spectators, it was nice to start the rally like this.”
More than 30,000 fans basked in the hot evening sunshine to watch the spectacular action from the first of 19 stages over four days.
Andreas Mikkelsen was fourth, despite almost stalling his Polo R twice, with team-mate and 2015 winner Jari-Matti Latvala and Kris Meeke completing the top six.
This fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship continues tomorrow when competitors face two identical loops of three gravel stages near Viana do Castelo, close to the Spanish border. Two asphalt street stages in the centre of Porto end the leg after 132.04km of competition.
SS2 Ponte de Lima 1 (27.44 km)
Meeke claims Portugal lead
Kris Meeke claimed the lead of Vodafone Rally de Portugal after winning Friday morning’s opening speed test.
The Briton missed the previous two WRC rounds in Mexico and Argentina but was quickly back into the groove in Citroen’s DS 3 to win the Ponte de Lima special stage by 5.6sec from Sebastien Ogier. It was enough to take a 3.5sec lead over the Frenchman, who was fastest in last night’s curtain raiser at Lousada rallycross circuit.
“The road was cutting up quite badly and I didn’t have a clean run,” explained Meeke. “I made four or five small mistakes, I was a bit rusty.”
Road opener Ogier was surprised by the high grip. “The conditions were OK but I made a mistake with the set-up and struggled a lot with understeer. It was too soft,” said the Volkswagen Polo R pilot, who had no recurrence of last night’s boost problem.
Dani Sordo was third, the Hyundai i20 driver faster than Ogier all the way through the test until falling behind in the final section. “I wanted to save the tyres because it’s a little warm,” explained the Spaniard, who was 8.1sec behind Meeke.
Hayden Paddon was fourth, despite feeling his i20’s engine was not pulling properly, while a steady Andreas Mikkelsen and Jari-Matti Latvala completed the top six. In contrast to team-mate Ogier, Latvala expected conditions to be drier and his car’s set-up was too stiff.
An overly-cautious Thierry Neuville dropped more than 30sec, the Belgian admitting he was trying to rebuild his confidence after a series of troubled rallies.
Kris Meeke stretched his Vodafone Rally de Portugal advantage over Sebastien Ogier to 11.5sec as competitors returned to Matosinhos for mid-leg service on Friday lunchtime.
Having grabbed the lead by winning the morning’s opening speed test, the Briton went fastest in the following Caminha test. He ended the loop with second quickest in Viana do Castelo, despite a big scare early in the stage.
“I had a big impact when I hit a rut near the start. Something felt strange and it wasn’t easy to keep the car in a straight line. I was praying it wasn’t a puncture,” explained Citroën pilot Meeke, whose DS 3 was emitting a strong smell of burning rubber at the finish.
Road opener Ogier lost little time through his start position in the first two stages. Viana do Castelo was a different matter as thick gravel proved costly, but Ogier’s fears of losing 15sec proved unfounded as he yielded 5.8sec to stage winner and Volkswagen Polo R team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala.
Dani Sordo was third overall in his Hyundai i20 after a great morning. The Spaniard was third in the final test and was only 3.1sec behind Ogier.
Despite edging Meeke by 0.2sec in Viana do Castelo, Latvala remained unhappy with his understeering Polo R and planned set-up changes in service. The Finn was tied with Ott Tanak, the Estonian delighted with top four times in SS3 and SS4 in his Ford Fiesta RS.
Hayden Paddon was 22.9sec off the lead in sixth, the Rally Argentina winner battling a suspected differential problem in his Hyundai i20. “It’s not a huge problem but enough to unsettle the balance of the car and affect the driving,” said the Kiwi.
The Kiwi’s car caught fire after he crashed heavily 11.90km into the second pass of Ponte de Lima. It burned out within five minutes and while Paddon and co-driver John Kennard were unhurt, they were only able to save their crash helmets from the burning wreckage.
Minutes later Tanak rolled his Ford Fiesta RS at the same location. It also caught fire, but the uninjured crew were helped by locals in extinguishing the flames with a hose pipe and it was reported the Estonian’s car was not badly damaged.
Organisers cancelled the stage and the following competitors drove it non-competitively before continuing to the following Caminha test.
Before the cancellation, Dani Sordo was fastest by 9.6sec in his i20 from Sebastien Ogier, with Thierry Neuville a further 0.5sec back. Nine drivers completed the stage competitively and notional times will be awarded to the remaining competitors, meaning the leaderboard remains unconfirmed.
Mads Ostberg counted himself lucky not to go off at the same point as Paddon and Tanak. “I lost the line in a rutted corner, there were lots of car parts on the road,” said the Norwegian.
Jari-Matti Latvala also hit problems, striking a hole and breaking his Volkswagen Polo R’s power steering. The Finn was exhausted after wrestling his car to the finish and dropped 40sec.
Kris Meeke led Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Friday night after dominating an action-packed day in the hills overlooking northern Spain.
The Briton, returning to the WRC after missing the previous two rounds, claimed the lead by winning this morning’s opening speed test. He was fastest in four more to head world championship leader Sebastien Ogier by 31.9sec with two days remaining.
Hayden Paddon, winner of the previous round in Argentina, and Ott Tanak provided the drama. Both rolled at the same place this afternoon and their cars caught fire, fierce flames reducing Paddon’s car to a shell in minutes. Both drivers and co-drivers were unhurt.
Two stage wins this morning enabled Meeke to build a 11.5sec lead in Citroen’s DS 3 over Ogier, fastest in last night’s curtain-raising test. As the gravel roads became heavily rutted, he stretched his lead to 35.2sec in the repeat pass, before Ogier narrowed the gap in the final two asphalt street tests in Porto.
Road opener Ogier had the worst of the conditions as he cleaned the gravel in his Volkswagen Polo R to leave better grip for others. An inspired Dani Sordo demoted the Frenchman from second before a front left puncture cost 10sec and the Spaniard dropped 5.4sec behind in his Hyundai i20.
A cautious approach paid dividends for Andreas Mikkelsen who was fourth in a Polo R, ahead of Thierry Neuville, who climbed the order after a cautious start. Stephane Lefebvre was sixth despite a puncture in his DS 3.
Mads Ostberg had difficulty downshifting his Ford Fiesta RS but improvements enabled the Norwegian to climb to seventh, with team-mate Eric Camilli eighth.
Jari-Matti Latvala held fourth despite a set-up that was too stiff for the conditions. However, the Finn hit a hole and broke his Polo R’s power steering, dropping more than three minutes wrestling it through the remaining stages. He finished 1.1sec ahead of WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand
The afternoon’s opening stage was cancelled after the crashes of Paddon and Tänak. Paddon and co-driver John Kennard could only save their crash helmets from the burning wreckage, while locals helped Tänak fight the flames with a hose pipe to save his car.
The only other major retirement was Kevin Abbring, sidelined with a broken steering arm after clipping a bank.
SS11: Meeke’s Portugal lead nears a minute
Kris Meeke extended his Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead to almost a minute on Saturday morning during an action-packed opening to the longest leg of the event.
Lefebvre exited sixth after hitting a rock in the previous test and breaking a suspension arm on Citroen’s DS 3 (pictured).
He took advantage of a low start position to win the Baiao and Marao speed tests and extend his overnight lead from 31.9sec to 53.9sec ahead of Sebastien Ogier.
“There was a lot of road cleaning and more grip than I expected and we’re taking the benefits,” said the Citroen DS 3 driver. “I wasn’t so comfortable in the second stage last year but I’ve done a lot of work on pace notes.”
Road opener Ogier was resigned to sweeping the loose gravel. “It’s really dry and the cleaning effect isn’t so good for me. I was hoping for a little bit more dampness. I’ll do the best I can with the conditions we have, but the ground is soft so it will be rutted in the second loop,” he said.
Andreas Mikkelsen was third in both stages in his Volkswagen Polo R, having abandoned his cautious attitude. “I’m sick and tired of going slowly. Now we push. The car is awesome, we’ve made small changes and that’s made a difference,” he said.
Mikkelsen is only 4.4sec behind third-placed Dani Sordo, who had a mixed start. He lost time in the twisty opening stage and felt his Hyundai i20 was moving too much at the rear.
Eric Camilli climbed to fifth in his Ford Fiesta RS after Thierry Neuville and Stephane Lefebvre retired. Neuville stopped in Marao with a fuel problem while
Mads Ostberg dropped a minute with a broken rear driveshaft in his Fiesta RS but bizarrely moved up to sixth following the demise of Lefebvre and Neuville. Kevin Abbring was an early casualty for a second day, the Dutchman out after hitting a rock in his i20.
Neither Hayden Paddon nor Ott Tanak restarted today after their fiery exits yesterday, but Henning Solberg, who used his flameproof underwear to extinguish a fire in his Ford Fiesta RS after he went off the road, returned to the action.
Kris Meeke completed a hat-trick of stage victories on Saturday morning at Vodafone Rally de Portugal to carry a lead of more than a minute into mid-leg service.
Having topped the times in Baiao and Marao, the Northern Irishman sealed the treble in Amarante, the longest stage of this fifth round of the FIA World Rally Championship, to head Sebastien Ogier by 62.9sec in Citroën’s DS 3.
“I’m feeling even more relaxed than yesterday, when I was a bit rusty in the first couple of stages,” said Meeke, returning to WRC action after a two rally absence. “The stages are definitely cleaning. It’s an advantage to run this far back and I’m going to try to make the most of it.”
Road opener Ogier struggled for grip as he swept the gravel roads in his Volkswagen Polo R and he was third. “I couldn’t do more than that,” said the frustrated Frenchman at the finish.
Andreas Mikkelsen’s decision to abandon his cautious style paid off as the Norwegian was fourth to climb to third overall in his Polo R, demoting Dani Sordo by 4.9sec. The Spaniard struggled in the slippery conditions with a lack of stability at the rear of his Hyundai i20.
Eric Camilli retained fifth in a Ford Fiesta RS, a further 1min 21.7sec behind. Jari-Matti Latvala was second fastest in the stage to move up to sixth overall in a Polo R as he recovered from yesterday’s power steering problems.
Mads Ostberg dropped two minutes as his driveshaft issues continued, the Norwegian now with two broken units and slipping back to seventh. WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand was eighth with Martin Prokop and Nicolas Fuchs completing the top 10 following Elfyn Evans demise with a roll.
Andreas Mikkelsen moved within touching distance of claiming second place from team-mate Sebastien Ogier at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Friday afternoon.
The Norwegian upped his pace this morning to move into a podium position and fastest time through the second passes of Baiao and Marao moved him to within half a second of Ogier.
“We had a really good drive in both stages, no mistakes and a clean run. The second one was close to perfect,” said Mikkelsen.
Road opener Ogier seemed powerless to fend off his colleague. “Conditions are better than yesterday afternoon but rougher than this morning. It’s not easy and I’m struggling with the grip. There’s more cleaning than this morning,” he said.
Kris Meeke tried to protect his comfortable lead by packing two spare wheels into the rear of Citroen’s DS 3 but found the extra weight made things tricky.
“I’m thinking about safety a little bit. The balance is difficult with two spares when the roads are narrow with quick changes of direction. The first stage was a bit harder than we expected but the next wasn’t too bad,” said Meeke, who set fourth and fifth fastest times to leave his lead over Ogier at 57.7sec.
Fourth-placed Dani Sordo fell back from Mikkelsen in his Hyundai i20 with Eric Camilli fifth and Jari-Matti Latvala sixth after claiming second fastest in both stages in his Polo R.
Khalid Al Qassimi stopped in Marao while Jaroslav Melicharek was reported to have rolled his Ford Fiesta RS.
WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand lost the lead after changing a puncture in his Skoda Fabia R5, handing Nicolas Fuchs a 2.6sec advantage.
Kris Meeke will carry a comfortable lead into the final leg of Vodafone Rally de Portugal after distancing world champion Sebastien Ogier over rough mountain roads on Saturday.
Meeke, returning to FIA World Rally Championship action after a two-event absence, completed a clean sweep of wins in the three morning stages to extend his lead to almost a minute. He measured his pace over rougher afternoon roads to lead tonight by 45.3sec.
Aware of the dangers on the rock-strewn gravel tracks, Meeke opted to carry two spare wheels in Citroen’s DS 3 instead of the usual one to guard against punctures. He needed neither but had to contend with different handling in the heavier car.
“I was thinking about protecting my lead,” he admitted. “I took two spares but it was difficult to manage as it changed the attitude and balance of the car on roads that were narrow and required quick changes of direction.”
Meeke benefited from good grip on clean roads thanks to a low start position, in contrast to road opener Ogier who endured the worst of the conditions as he swept the loose gravel.
“I did everything I could but it was a terrible afternoon for me. The grip was hard to handle and the rear of the car was off line,” said Volkswagen Polo R pilot Ogier, who repelled charging team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen by 3.1sec after winning the final special stage.
Mikkelsen abandoned yesterday’s cautious policy to climb to third. Two afternoon stage wins reduced the deficit to Ogier to just half a second before the Frenchman retaliated.
Dani Sordo could not repeat yesterday’s speed, the Spaniard frustrated by the lack of stability at the rear of his Hyundai i20. He slipped out of the top three and ended 31.6sec behind Mikkelsen in fourth.
Eric Camilli surged up to fifth in his Ford Fiesta RS, banishing memories of a troubled start to his rookie season, while Jari-Matti Latvala recovered to sixth in a Polo R after yesterday’s power steering problem.
Two broken driveshafts this morning cost Mads Østberg three minutes as he struggled with front-wheel drive only in his Fiesta RS. The Norwegian was seventh, with Martin Prokop, WRC 2 leader Pontus Tidemand and Nicolas Fuchs completing the leaderboard.
Thierry Neuville retired from fifth after running out of fuel in his i20, Stéphane Lefebvre exited sixth after hitting a rock and breaking a suspension arm on his DS 3 and Kevin Abbring retired for a second day after also striking a rock.
Four stages remain in Sunday’s final leg, including two passes through the iconic Fafe test where up to 75,000 fans are expected to throng the hillsides. Drivers face 67.32km of competition, with bonus points for the top three drivers in the final live TV Power Stage.
Andreas Mikkelsen snatched second from Volkswagen team-mate Sebastien Ogier after winning Sunday morning’s opening two speed tests at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
The Norwegian eclipsed Ogier by 8.8sec in Vieira do Minho to overturn the 3.5sec deficit and then pulled further clear after topping the times in the legendary Fafe special stage. He was 2.4sec faster to build an 8.1sec advantage with two stages remaining.
Mikkelsen believed he could have been even quicker through Vieira do Minho which was damp after overnight rain. “I tried to drive like yesterday but I didn’t take advantage of the grip in places which was really good. I was too careful, I’ll try to be more aggressive.”
A heavy landing in his Polo R over the famous jump near the finish of Fafe indicated he achieved that. “It was a clean stage but a nose-heavy landing over the last jump wasn’t so nice. The jumps here seem a bit different this year,” he added.
Ogier completed the opening stage with a front right puncture in his Polo R and that compromised his pace through Fafe as the Frenchman carried just one spare in the car.
“I can’t afford another puncture because I have no more spare. I can’t go completely flat out anymore so I tried to do a clean drive here,” he said.
Leader Kris Meeke was third in both tests behind the duelling Volkswagens, leaving his lead at 35.5sec over Mikkelsen.
“I drove cautiously in the first one. I have time in my pocket so I’ll use it. It would have been easy to get caught out, but the grip in Fafe was more consistent. I have 35sec in hand so I just have to bring it home now,” he explained.
Valeriy Gorban retired after a heavy landing in Fafe broke the front right suspension on his Mini John Cooper.
Kris Meeke returned from a two-rally absence to claim his second WRC victory at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday afternoon.
The Briton, who missed the previous two WRC rounds in the Americas, led for all but the first of the 19 speed tests to win the four-day rough road event in northern Portugal by 29.7sec in Citroën’s DS 3. It was his second world success after triumphing in Argentina last year.
Andreas Mikkelsen outpaced team-mate and championship leader Sebastien Ogier on the final day to take second in a Volkswagen Polo R, relegating the Frenchman to the last step of the podium by 4.8sec
Ogier won the final live TV Power Stage to claim three bonus points. Jari-Matti Latvala took two points for second while Mikkelsen claimed the final point in third.