Portugal, Day 1: Hirvonen moves into Portugal lead
Ott Tanak continues to shine
M-Sport World Rally Team driver Mikko Hirvonen heads the field of Vodafone Rally de Portugal, the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship. The Finn powered into the lead in the final stage of the day to claim a 3.7 second advantage over fellow Fiesta RS WRC driver Ott Tanak. Early leader Sébastien Ogier dropped down the order this evening and overnights in third, 2.8 seconds adrift of Tanak.
Rally de Portugal got underway with its start ceremony in Estoril yesterday afternoon and crews immediately headed to the spectacular street stage in Lisbon for the first stage. Ogier claimed the honours and headed the field into the first day of gravel stages, which included two loops of three identical stages covering 146.04 competitive kilometres.
After days of rain, which affected the crews’ reconnaissance earlier in the week, conditions were tricky this morning in the first loop of stages and a cautious approach was necessary over the slippery roads. Dani Sordo set the pace first thing, the Spaniard claiming the first fastest stage time for the Hyundai i20 WRC in SS2 before taking the lead after another stage win in the following test. He dropped back during the day but heads Hyundai Motorsport’s challenge in fifth position this evening. Mikko Hirvonen has been one of the pacesetters all day, the Finn challenging for the lead and finally taking it in the final stage.
Ott Tanak continues to shine this season, the Estonian among the leading crews and climbing to second by the end of the day despite struggling at times with poor pace notes from a difficult recce. Reigning World Champion Sébastien Ogier led for four stages, winning only one of them, but the Frenchman slipped back when drying conditions late this afternoon benefitted those on soft tyres. He is however only 6.5 seconds off the lead.
Fourth is held by Mads Østberg who has had an uneventful day, unlike team-mate Kris Meeke who is competing in Portugal for the first time. Meeke has really struggled with a lack of comprehensive pace notes from the weather-struck recce and ultimately went off the road in stage seven. Behind fifth-placed Sordo is team-mate Thierry Neuville. The Belgian suffered with understeer this morning but set another fastest time for the Hyundai i20 WRC this afternoon. Henning Solberg and Juho Hänninen, seventh and eighth respectively, each had a puncture this morning and Andreas Mikkelsen has spent the day regaining his confidence in the Volkswagen Polo R WRC after a difficult event in Mexico three weeks ago. Martin Prokop rounds off the top ten.
Other leading retirements of the day included Elfyn Evans who went off the road in SS4, and Robert Kubica who hit a tree and took a wheel off in the same stage. Jari-Matti Latvala was also a casualty of the day, the Finn rolling in the following stage.
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