Portugal victory sees Neuville regain championship lead from Ogier
Neuville stays out of trouble on the final day
Thierry Neuville won Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday afternoon to swing the FIA World Rally Championship pendulum firmly in his favour.
Victory at the gruelling four-day dirt road encounter promoted Neuville to the top of the standings as the series approaches its midpoint. After starting 10 points behind reigning champion Sébastien Ogier, the Belgian leaves Portugal with a 19-point advantage.
Neuville steered his Hyundai i20 away from trouble during a weekend of attrition that sidelined many frontrunners to win by 40.0sec from Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta.
Fellow title challengers Ogier and Ott Tänak ended pointless after falling foul of Friday’s rock-strewn speed tests and Neuville pressed home his advantage by claiming four extra bonus points in the final Power Stage.
He moved to the front near the end of Friday’s first leg after the lead changed hands six times in a frantic opening. He doubled his advantage yesterday and eased through Sunday’s finale to secure his second win of the year.
“It was a clever approach all weekend,” he said. “I had a fantastic car which was working well and I felt comfortable. We can be proud of what we achieved here There are a lot of Portuguese mechanics in the team and I think the party is going to be big tonight!”
Second for Evans eased the pressure after a disappointing season and team-mate Teemu Suninen helped erase the frustration of Ogier’s blank weekend in the M-Sport Ford squad by claiming his maiden podium. He finished 7.3sec behind the Welshman.
Suninen held off Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo in an intense fight for the final podium place. Lappi was 7.4sec adrift of his fellow Finn in a Toyota Yaris with Spaniard Sordo 6.2sec further back in his i20.
Sordo went to bed last night in third but woke up this morning in fourth after receiving a 10sec penalty for dislodging two bales on a Porto street stage roundabout on Friday night.
Round seven promises a high-summer shootout on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The all-gravel Rally Italia Sardegna is based in Alghero on 8 - 10 June.
Lappi loses fourth after penalty
Esapekka Lappi has been demoted to fifth at Vodafone Rally de Portugal after being penalised for clipping a bale at a roundabout in Friday night’s Porto Street Stage.
The Toyota driver finished the rally fourth – 6.8sec ahead of Dani Sordo – but stewards gave him a 10sec penalty for displacing one of the three dividing bales on SS9’s third roundabout.
Lappi was suffering from a broken rear damper during the two runs of the street test, which the team argued made his Yaris hard to control and said the incident didn’t gain him any time advantage.
However, the stewards concluded Lappi contravened the regulations by touching the bale.
Ironically, Sordo was elevated to fourth having also been penalised 10sec 24 hours earlier for clipping the same roundabout bales the first time the stage was run.
1. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3:49:46.6
2. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +40.0
3. Teemu Suninen / Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.3
4. Dani Sordo / Carlos del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1:00.9
5. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:04.7
6. Mads Østberg / Torstein Eriksen (Citroen DS3 WRC) +3:33.5
7. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen DS3 WRC) +5:23.0
8. Pontus Tidemand / Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +14:10.8
9. Lukasz Pieniazek / Przemyslaw Mazur (Skoda Fabia R5) +16:17.3
10. Stephane Lefebvre / Gabin Moreau (Citroen C3 R5) +16:34.3
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