Portugal, SS12: Neuville pulls clear
Belgian’s Portugal advantage approaches 30sec
Thierry Neuville stretched his Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead to almost half a minute with a sublime performance through the longest speed test of the event on Saturday morning.
The Belgian stopped the clocks 17.2sec ahead of Elfyn Evans in the 37.60km Amarante special stage, which ended the morning loop, after the second-placed Welshman had closed the gap across the opening two tests. Neuville’s lead rose to 29.9sec.
“We made some small changes before the stage. It was quite slippery so I decided to push hard. It’s going to be rough this afternoon so we have to be careful,” said the Hyundai i20 driver, eyeing a golden opportunity to demote Sébastien Ogier from the championship lead.
Evans was only eighth fastest in his Ford Fiesta. “Everything is fine but I could tell it wasn’t going so well but didn’t know what to do to change it. I didn’t feel I was getting any traction in the last half,” he explained.
Fourth fastest for Dani Sordo allowed him to close to within 5.0sec of Evans and the Spanish i20 pilot held a 19.7sec advantage over Teemu Suninen’s Ford Fiesta in fourth.
The Finn admitted to a couple of tiny errors and was coming under increasing pressure from fellow countryman Esapekka Lappi. The Toyota Yaris driver was third in the sandy test to reduce the deficit to 4.8sec. Mads Østberg completed the top six in a Citroën C3.
Craig Breen had a tough morning opening the roads in the dusty conditions but the Irishman climbed to seventh, following more disappointment for Kris Meeke after yesterday’s woes.
The Ulsterman slid wide on a left bend and his C3 rolled heavily down a bank. Both Meeke and co-driver Paul Nagle were unhurt but their day was finished.
WRC 2 leader Stéphane Lefebvre was eighth with fellow support category drivers Pontus Tidemand and Lukasz Pieniazek completing the leaderboard.
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