In the Qatar World Rally Team squad, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul encountered somewhat better fortune as they continued to grow in both speed and confidence.
The fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC) started with such promise for the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team today. But whilst leading the Vodafone Rally de Portugal, Mads Østberg was unfortunately forced to retire after rolling his Ford Fiesta RS WRC on SS3.
With no midday service to split Rally de Portugal’s opening tests, the challenge for the crews was twofold – selecting the optimum tyre choice and maintaining the mental strength to deliver over all 80.55 competitive kilometres.
In the Qatar World Rally Team squad, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul encountered somewhat better fortune as they continued to grow in both speed and confidence. Despite admittedly struggling to find the optimal set-up, the duo posted the second fastest time through SS4 and lay a creditable fifth going into Day 2.
Back in the Qatar M-Sport World Rally Team, Evgeny Novikov and co-driver Ilka Minor struggled to find their rhythm on the Portuguese stages. Uncharacteristically given the Russian’s usual speed, Novikov finds himself just shy of the top-five in sixth place overall.
With both their Fiesta RS WRC and Michelin’s harder compound tyres working to their advantage, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini climbed the time sheets throughout the day. Finding himself just outside the top-ten after the first stage, the Qatari soon got to grips with his Fiesta and now lies seventh overall going into tomorrow’s competitive action.
Making their 2013 debut in the WRC, Dennis Kuipers and co-driver Robin Buysmans also grew in pace and confidence throughout the day. Improving their times over the second loop, the Dutchmen hold a points-paying tenth place in the overall standings.
In the WRC 2 category, 2012 FIA WRC Academy winner Elfyn Evans impressed on what is his four-wheel-drive debut in the WRC. Despite taking a cautious approach to learn the characteristics of the car and stages, Evans and co-driver Daniel Barritt are holding an excellent second place – 30.1 seconds adrift of the WRC 2 lead.
Thierry Neuville (5th) said:
“Today has been OK, but I was disappointed to lose so much time on the opening loop. I’m not sure why we did. Maybe it was the road position but also I was not 100 per cent happy with the set-up of the car – we had some oversteer in some of the corners which meant I couldn’t push as much as I would have liked.
“We had a better run over the second pass and the feeling was much better. We’re only 30 seconds off the lead, so let’s see what we can do tomorrow. Hopefully we’ll gain some places.”
Evgeny Novikov (6th) said:
“We have tried our best today and the pace has not been so bad. Of course I would like to be a little further up the order, but that’s just the way it went today. We’ll be back fighting tomorrow.”
Nasser Al-Attiyah (7th) said:
“Today has been good. The car and the tyres have been working perfectly and I was happy that we could improve our times over the second pass. We’re in a good position, but there is still a long way to go so we’ll have to wait and see what happens tomorrow.
“Obviously I am very disappointed for Mads [Østberg]. He was setting a really great pace and had a real chance of victory this weekend.”
Dennis Kuipers (10th) said:
“Today has been good. OK it took a while to get back into the rhythm, but we improved our times over the second loop and are now in the points [in tenth]. There’s still a long way to go, so tomorrow we will just try to continue like this.”
Elfyn Evans (2nd in WRC 2) said:
“We’ve had a good day today. The plan was always to take quite a cautious approach to get comfortable with the car and I think we have done that. It was good to see that we were capable of setting some quick times while not really pushing to the maximum and we are in a really good position now. We’ll continue like this tomorrow – concentrating on building up our experience and not taking too many big risks.”
Mads Østberg (Rally 2) said:
“There was a communication problem between me and Jonas [Andersson, co-driver]. Whether I misheard or whether he misread we don’t know because we haven’t seen the onboard yet. But either way I thought it was a five-left-minus when actually it should have been a four-left-minus. I was far too quick into the corner and we hit the bank on the outside and rolled – once on the stage and then again on the escape-road where we landed on the roof.
“We pushed very hard on SS2 and I understood that I couldn’t continue like that throughout the whole event so I adjusted the speed for SS3 and everything was working really well. I wasn’t pushing too hard, it was just a communication problem. Even if you are just one degree wrong with a pacenote at that speed there is just nothing you can do.
“We will re-start tomorrow. There was no damage to the rollcage and apart from that the mechanics can change everything.
“I would say that it will be easier for me to win the lottery now than it will be to win again here! For sure that is not possible but we’ll try to do some testing tomorrow and any points we can get will be a bonus. Also we know now that it is not impossible to beat [Sébastien] Ogier so that is a positive!”
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“Mads [Østberg] was setting a fantastic pace in the early stages. It’s always hard to see one of our cars retire for the day, but when it retires from the lead it’s especially difficult. Having said that, when you look at his [Østberg’s] pace from this morning – and from Mexico last month – it’s clear that he has the speed to win rallies and I’m confident that he will deliver a victory this season.”