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Stage report
WRC Rally Portugal

WRC Portugal: Neuville tames Super Special to claim early lead

World Rally Championship points leader Thierry Neuville mastered a technical super special to open up an early Rally Portugal lead on Thursday night.

The Hyundai driver managed to navigate through the 2.94km beachside asphalt stage, 0.6s faster than nearest rival Toyota’s Sebastien Ogier.

Without a service before tomorrow morning’s gravel stages, crews were forced to tackle the spectator test in tyre saving mode to protect rubber for Friday’s stages.

“It is difficult weekend ahead of us [starting first on the gravel roads tomorrow]. We tried to be clean and I don’t know if it was too much or not,” said Neuville.

“I don’t want be the one who brings down the great atmosphere we have here but a stage like this with donuts and 70 kilometres ahead of us with the same tyres is absolutely nonsense.

“There are lots of spectators around and I hope they saw something, but I think we can do much better.”

Ogier was among a chorus of drivers who shared Neuville’s view on the positioning of the stage in the itinerary.

“I tried to [be easy on the tyres]. I’m sure everyone has said that is not clever to ask us to do a tarmac stage where we have to drive slow and not make a show,” said Ogier.

“This kind of stage has to be at the end of a loop, then we come here and we kill the gravel tyres and the fans love it.”

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta and Hyundai’s Ott Tanak posted identical times to slot into tied third, 0.4s ahead of reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera, who clearly adopted a tyre saving driving style.

M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux was sixth fastest [+3.1s] and will head into tomorrow’s stages having gambled on taking only one spare wheel.

“Sometimes you need to take risks to gain some time,” said Fourmaux of his tyre choice. “To be fair we are quite confident with our tyre choice, and we are just trying to save the tyres tonight. I’m third on the road so I’m not expecting much tyre wear tomorrow.”

Seven-time Portugal podium finisher Dani Sordo, making his first start of the season, was seventh for Hyundai [+4.1s], ahead of title contender Toyota’s Elfyn Evans [+4.3s], who was among those that attempted to save his rubber.

In WRC2, Yohan Rossel set the pace, 1.1s faster than five-time WRC rally winner Kris Meeke, competing in a rare outing in rallying’s top championship. Oliver Solberg was third in class, a further 0.5s in arrears.

The rally continues on Friday with eight gravel stages scheduled, punctuated by a tyre fitting zone at midday.

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