Mads Østberg and Jonas Andersson ended day one of Rally de Portugal in fourth place in the overall standings.
A few days after the hugely popular Fafe Rally Sprint organised in the north of the country and which thrilled around a hundred thousand spectators, the crews were in the Algarve for the start of Rally de Portugal.
After recce was severely hampered by heavy rain and flash floods, the WRC drivers set off from Estoril before taking part in the first super special stage held in the streets of Lisbon. Three hundred kilometres further south, the rally proper got underway this morning on roads which remained damp in most places.
Former winner Mads Østberg managed the difficulties presented by the road conditions to finish among the leaders on each stage. At the end of the first leg, a day during which he grew in confidence and was able to adjust the set-up of his Citroën DS3 WRC, he stood in fourth position.
Khalid Al Qassimi worked extensively with the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team on his car’s set-up to try and find the right feeling. Held up on SS4 after another car went off the road, he ended the day in sixteenth overall.
Saturday’s leg features seven stages. Crews will set off at 8.30am from Faro, covering a total of 470 kilometres, with 146km of timed sections. After SS13, the competitors will drive their cars into parc ferme at 8.05pm.
Mads Østberg: “It was a good day. We managed to stay with the leaders. We lost a bit of time on the first stage of the second loop. I don’t think we made the right tyre choice. We went for hard tyres but the roads were still pretty damp. But it wasn’t an easy call to make. I’m pleased with how the day went and it looks good for tomorrow.”
Kris Meeke: “We braked a bit late into a right-hand corner. It was a spot where there wasn’t much grip and where Elfyn Evans went off this morning. The notes just weren’t accurate enough.”
Khalid Al Qassimi: “We worked on the set-up of the Citroën DS3 WRC throughout the day. I had a better feeling and was more comfortable in the afternoon. We made some changes to the springs, the clicks and adjusted the ride height. I was able to push more in the quick sections and remain cautious in the narrower, more technical sections. I know I can go more quickly but I don’t want to put myself under pressure. We’re going to keep working on the car to prepare for tomorrow.”
Yves Matton (Citroën Racing Team Principal): “Recce suggested that the rally was going to be particularly difficult. And the first leg proved to be just that, with several WRC crews going off today. Mads managed to be consistent whilst setting times close to those of the leaders. He is well placed for the rest of the rally. He must be cautious to ensure he makes it to the end, but we’re convinced he has what it takes to finish on the podium. Kris had more trouble. He had to learn about the stages as he went and had been cautious through the day but then got caught out on the last stage. We hope he’ll be able to rejoin tomorrow under Rally 2 rules.”