Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier holds a slim 4.4sec lead over Dani Sordo at the end of a thrilling opening day of Rally de Portugal, the fourth round of the World Rally Championship.
Friday’s competition comprised four gravel stages in the Algarve and a spectacular street-based Super Special in the Portuguese capital Lisbon – all run consecutively without any service breaks.
Ogier took the lead in his Polo R WRC on the first stage and was the only WRC driver to fit a full set of Michelin’s soft-compound tyres that especially suited the cooler, slightly damp early conditions.
Things changed on the next stage however, when the temperature started to rise, the surface dried and Mads Ostberg stormed ahead, his Ford Fiesta RS shod with the hard-compound rubber.
But Ostberg’s lead proved short-lived and he crashed on the third stage when he misheard a pace note and rolled into retirement.
Ostberg’s misfortune moved Ogier back into the lead and promoted Citroen DS3 driver Dani Sordo – also on the hard compound tyres - into second.
After struggling to find a comfortable chassis set-up on the most recent round in Mexico, suspension modifications to Sordo’s car in Portugal proved a revelation. The Spaniard went quickest on both repeated gravel stages and edged ever closer to Ogier’s lead.
Jari-Matti Latvala is third, 11.4sec behind his Volkswagen team-mate Ogier and feeling more at home with the handling of his car after a frustrating time in Mexico.
Mikko Hirvonen is fourth, 16.2sec off the lead in his Citroen DS3. The Finn found his car’s suspension too stiff for Friday’s stage conditions but with no service he was stuck with the set-up all day.
Thierry Neuville was similarly hamstrung with a less than ideal set-up on his Fiesta RS. The Belgian ended the day fifth, 14.5sec behind Hirvonen.
A 46sec gap separates the top five from Fiesta RS driver Evgeny Novikov in sixth. A further minute back Nasser Al-Attiyah is seventh in another Fiesta.
Martin Prokop is eighth, with Michal Kosciuszko bringing his MINI home ninth after a heroic performance on the Lisbon Super Special that he drove with limited visibility after his bonnet flew open.
Saturday’s leg of the Rally de Portugal kicks off at 0900hrs when crews leave the Service Park in Faro for the first of six stages. The opening Santana da Serra test gets underway at 1009hrs.
Support championship round ups
WRC-2: Lappi leads but Kubica stars
Finnish hot-shot Esapekka Lappi was fastest on all five stages to lead the WRC-2 category in a Skoda Fabia S2000 by 30.1sec from 2011 FIA WRC Academy champion Elfyn Evans. But impressive as his performance was, Robert Kubica stole the plaudits. The ex-Formula 1 driver was second in a Citroen DS3 RRC on his first gravel rally before retiring en route to the final stage in Lisbon. Find out more here.
WRC-3: Cronin edges ahead
Triple British champion Keith Cronin heads the WRC-3 category in Portugal. The Irishman holds a 3.3sec advantage over Northern Ireland’s Alastair Fisher. Sebastien Chardonnet lies third, 6.6sec behind Cronin, all three drivers at the wheel of Citroen DS3 R3Ts. Click here to find out more.
Junior WRC Championship: Tidemand draws clear
Pontus Tidemand completed the opening day of the FIA Junior WRC Championship season with a strong lead in Rally de Portugal. The young Swede won three of the five special stages in his Ford Fiesta R2 to build a 27.0sec lead over Jose Suarez. Marius Aasen won the other two tests and the Norwegian lies third, 32.8sec behind his fellow Scandinavian.