Friday midday wrap: High drama as Hirvonen leads
Factory Ford aces Latvala and Solberg both out in Portugal
Mikko Hirvonen leads Vodafone Rally de Portugal after Friday’s opening three stages as fog, mud and rain combined to make driving conditions treacherous and transform the leaderboard on round of the FIA World Rally Championship powered by Nokia.
Heavy overnight rain has turned the once dusty gravel roads into slippery mud-caked tracks, which caught out several star drivers, not least factory Ford aces Jari-Matti Latvala and Petter Solberg. Overnight Latvala went off into a ditch on Friday’s opener with Solberg following suit nearing the finish of the very next run. Both drivers have been forced to retire but are expected to restart on Saturday.
“It is so slippery, so muddy,” said Citroen driver Latvala, whose lead over Evgeny Novikov stands at 36.3s after seven stages. “The changes of grip are so sudden that anything is possible. I am leading but that doesn’t mean it is easy.”
M-Sport Fiesta pilot Novikov has been hampered by an intercom issue all morning but moved ahead of Mads Ostberg for second when the Norwegian’s Adapta Fiesta suffered a left-rear puncture on stage seven.
Patrik Sandell is fourth in his Sweden World Rally Team-backed MINI, one place ahead of Martin Prokop, who described the stage conditions as the most treacherous he’d ever experienced as he repeated difficulties seeing where he was going due to fog and a misting windscreen.
In a further boost for the Prodrive-run MINI team, Dani Sordo has capitalised on starting first on the road today by winning all three stages in his uprated John Cooper Works WRC. However, because Sordo is competing under Rally 2 regulations following his day one retirement, the Spaniard is not in contention for top honours.
Nasser Al-Attiyah is sixth for the Qatar World Rally Team with Peter van Merksteijn Jr seventh and Dennis Kuipers eighth on his first start in the WRC for almost six months. Sebastien Ogier is ninth in his Volkswagen Motorsport-run Skoda Fabia Super 2000 with Jari Ketomaa completing the top 10 in his Autotek Fiesta, despite engine problems.
Portuguese hero Armindo Araujo is a handful of seconds adrift of the top 10 in his WRC Team MINI Portugal entry.
Other drivers in trouble this morning include Thierry Neuville and Ott Tanak, who both stopped on the first Tavira stage. Hayden Paddon dropped out of the lead of the Super 2000 World Rally Championship category when he stopped on stage five. Class rival Craig Breen is also out after his Fiesta faltered following a watersplash.
The stage action resumes with the second running of Tavira at 15:56hrs local time. More rain is being forecast over the rally route.
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