Portugal, SS13-14: Neuville and Evans fight for seconds in the rain
Vodafone Rally de Portugal leader Thierry Neuville and closest rival Elfyn Evans traded seconds as rain put a different complexion on the previously bone dry speed tests on Saturday afternoon.
Evans stopped the clocks quickest in Vieira do Minho in his Ford Fiesta to claw back more than six seconds from the Belgian. The tables were reversed in Cabeceiras de Basto as Neuville was second in his Hyundai i20 to increase his lead to 28.0sec.
Heavy rain in parts of Cabeceiras de Basto before the start threw a curve ball into the drivers’ path, especially those who opted for Michelin’s hard compound tyres.
“I didn’t know with the tyres in the abrasive parts so I pushed a bit more, I lost too much in the first stage when I wasn’t pushing as hard,” explained Neuville at the SS14 finish. “I knew the last 30 per cent of the stage was humid and then suddenly there was standing water.”
Evans opted for a mix of hard and soft rubber and admitted conditions were tricky.
“The grip was low most of the way through and towards the end there were some corners which were like ice. I just managed to read the conditions in time. Soft tyres would have been better but we weren’t to know at the end of the previous stage when it was dry,” he said.
Third-placed Dani Sordo was distanced by Evans. The Spaniard ‘pushed like hell’ in the dry sections in his i20 but the gap between the pair was up to 15.3sec.
Sordo must keep a close eye on battling Finns Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi behind. Suninen benefited by having his notional time for yesterday’s canceled stage reduced by a handful of seconds and was 8.9sec behind Sordo after third fastest in Vieira do Minho.
Lappi was fighting hard in his Toyota Yaris to keep Suninen in striking distance. He conceded 1.5sec across the two tests, leaving him 12.7sec behind and breathing deeply at the Cabeceiras de Basto finish.
“It’s really nice to be in a fight with a fellow Finn. Conditions changed and it was damp - 200kph and braking…. I was lucky I stayed on the road,” he admitted.
Sadly for Mads Østberg, he didn’t. “I was caught out by the rain, it was slippery on the hard tyres. I went too fast into a right corner and got stuck on the outside,” said the Citroën C3 pilot. who lost 50sec as fans pushed his car back onto the road. He remained sixth.
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