The configuration of the first leg was rather unusual, as the cars did not benefit from any service periods throughout the entire day.
On fire throughout day one of the Rally de Portugal, Dani Sordo and Carlos del Barrio lie second overall this evening, 4.4s behind the leaders. And although the set-up of their car wasn’t quite right, Mikko Hirvonen and Jarmo Lehtinen fought hard to stay in touch with the frontrunners. The Finns hold fourth position tonight, just 16.2s off the pace.
As the cars prepared to leave Estádio Algarve – where the Service Park is set up – there was plenty of animated discussion about tyre choice. What with hard and soft Michelin Latitude Cross tyres available, plus the option of adding a second spare wheel, the possibilities were almost endless. In the Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team, Dani Sordo and Khalid Al Qassimi opted for five hard tyres, whilst Mikko Hirvonen combined four hard tyres with two softs.
With muddy portions in the closing section, the Mú stage was more suited to soft tyres. Mikko Hirvonen nonetheless set the third fastest time, whilst Dani Sordo went fifth fastest, around ten seconds adrift of the leader, Sébastien Ogier.
On SS2, the Spaniard stated to make the most of his tyre choice, setting the second fastest time behind Østberg. On the second running of the loop, no-one could keep pace with Dani, who won both stages to cut Ogier’s lead to just 2.4s.
“I pushed whilst trying to look after the car and the tyres, because there is still a long way to go in the rally,” emphasized Dani Sordo before heading off to complete the day’s final stage in the streets of the Portuguese capital. “Unlike in Mexico, here I feel full of confidence and that’s essential if you want to challenge for the lead. We knew that we had worked well in testing and today’s result confirms that. I will keep pushing tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Mikko Hirvonen had to deal with a set-up that wasn’t entirely to his liking: “As soon as I put the hard tyres on, the car became difficult to drive. I still pushed, but I would probably have gone off if I had pushed any harder. It’s a bit frustrating, but it’s still positive not to have lost too much time today. I really think things will go better tomorrow.”
“The tests we did before the rally were difficult for Mikko, because the weather conditions were constantly changing,” added Cédric Mazenq, the Finn’s race engineer. “We couldn’t complete the programme we had drawn up, which meant we didn’t choose the right option this morning. As there was no midday service, we were unable to put things right. I suppose you could say that we’ve finished our tests today. Mikko will be better equipped for tomorrow.”
Taking part in his first gravel rally in the DS3 WRC, Khalid Al Qassimi enjoyed an error-free day, leaving him in 11th overall. “Although I drove a little bit in Kuwait, the roads in Portugal are totally different to the road surface in the Middle East,” explained the Abu Dhabi driver. “I found it difficult to get my pace right, especially in the more uneven and rocky sections. We also had to cope with a clutch problem. It wasn’t too much of a disadvantage during the stages, but it was fairly problematic on the road sections. Fortunately, we’re still in the rally!”