J-WRC: Burkart leads after tough day for Juniors
Rally de Portugal - After Day 2
Junior World Rally Championship leader Aaron Burkart ended the opening day of the Rally of Portugal in a dominant position at the head of the leaderboard in his Suzuki Swift S1600.
The German driver had been forced to play second fiddle for much of the day after Belgian Thierry Neuville blitzed the timesheets, winning five of today’s six stages - with both giving best to Spaniard Yeray Lemes who led after last night’s superspecial.
Neuville’s hopes of landing a maiden J-WRC win went south for the second rally in succession - this time in much more dramatic fashion as he crashed his Citroen C2 S1600 off the road on the final stage.
While Neuville had been quickest after the day’s penultimate test, Rally of Turkey J-WRC winner Burkart drove well and stayed in touch with the Citroen and was only 20 seconds adrift when the leader left the road and clattered a pole seven kilometres into the second run at the Silves test.
“Some of the stages were quite rough today,” said the end of day leader. “The rocks in stage four were big, but okay, we are here. It’s been hard work for the tyres and I am a little surprised we didn’t have a puncture - the tyres have done well.”
Burkart’s Suzuki ran well, with only a minor brake problem hindering the leader through day one.
Lemes ended the day in second place, almost two minutes adrift of the lead. Alessandro Broccoli is just half a minute behind the Spanish Renault in third place after what the Italian described as the perfect day on the stages.
Kevin Abbring had been in the thick of the fight for the lead after the second stage, only to suffer a left-front puncture on the next test. “We had to stop and change the tyre,” he said. “We still had about 12 kilometres to run in the stage. Now we have to think about a new plan. It’s very frustrating. I don’t know where the rock came from, but it was big and in a strange place - there were a lot of spectators standing in this place. It’s not good because we were only at 90 per cent through the first stage and we were right in the fight for the lead.”
Abbring and Neuville weren’t the only drivers ruing a tricky first day - Britain’s Harry Hunt went off the road twice on the opening gravel stage. His Fiesta was in a ditch for 20 minutes after the second incident. He eventually extricated his Ford, but the excursion had damaged the brakes leaving him with no stopping power for the next two stages. Hunt ended the day classified seventh in J-WRC.
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