Thierry Neuville closes in on victory in Portugal

Thierry Neuville closes in on victory in Portugal

19.05.2018: Belgium’s Thierry Neuville maintained his composure and attacked on the longest stage of the rally to extend his lead to 39.8 seconds after a further six gravel stages of the 52nd Vodafone Rally of Portugal in the Cabreira

Belgium’s Thierry Neuville maintained his composure and attacked on the longest stage of the rally to extend his lead to 39.8 seconds after a further six gravel stages of the 52nd Vodafone Rally of Portugal in the Cabreira mountains, east of Porto, on Saturday.

The Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team driver pushed when it was safe to do so and managed his pace perfectly. Hyundai team-mate Dani Sordo and M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans became embroiled in a dusty tussle for second place, the Spaniard freed from the shackles of having to consider Manufacturers’ Championship points for the Korean brand.

Five seconds separated the pair at the day’s halfway point, but Evans pressed hard during the afternoon and a last stage spin cost Sordo further time. Sordo finished 17.4 seconds adrift of the Welshman in third place.

Two of the up and coming Finnish drivers also provided a fascinating spectacle in their duel for fourth position. Ford’s Teemu Suninen held a slender lead over Toyota GAZOO Racing’s Esapekka Lappi heading into the afternoon loop. The pair traded fractions of a second during the afternoon , but Suninen held on to finish the day 11.1 in front of Lappi and a mere 4.7 behind Sordo.

Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team’s Kris Meeke, Craig Breen and Mads Østberg spent most of the morning running at the front of the field and acting as the stage sweepers for their rivals. It was hardly ideal for any of the C3 WRC drivers but Østberg faired the better of the trio and reached the night halt in sixth position on his return to the team after a three rally absence.

Breen gained valuable experience running first on the road to hold seventh overall, but Meeke blotted his copybook on the first pass through the Amarante stage and launched the C3 into the trees after the rear end of the car slid wide on a fast corner.

Stéphane Lefebvre got to grips with Citroën’s C3 R5 to take control of the WRC 2 category after Gus Greensmith lost time with a flat tyre. But Sweden’s Pontus Tidemand climbed back from first day delays and began to apply serious pressure on the Frenchman during the afternoon.

He trailed the C3 R5 by just 21.7 seconds heading into the last stage of the day but Lefebvre had to change a tyre, lost further time and slipped to third behind the impressive Swede and Pianezek.

Saturday - as it happened

Of the 14 World Rally Cars, only Ott Tänak and Hayden Paddon failed to start Saturday’s easterly stages through the Cabreira mountains. Revised notional stage times pushed Suninen and Østberg up to fourth and sixth overall.

Greensmith found himself leading WRC 2 by 34.3 seconds from Poland’s Lukasz Pienazek, with a resurgent Lefebvre only half a second behind. Sweden’s Dennis Rädstrom led fellow countryman Emil Bergvist by five seconds in the WRC 3 or Junior category.

Two runs through the Vieira do Minho, Cabeceiras de Basto and Amarante stages were on the agenda for Saturday, split by a return to Exponor for a regroup and service.

Road sweeping duties in the opening 17.5km fell to Breen and the Irishman was followed into the special by Meeke, Østberg and Lappi. The Irishman dropped 11.1 seconds to Meeke in his cleaning role as the surface continued to improve and Neuville set the second fastest time and extended his lead over Evans to 18.6 seconds.

Both Andreas Mikkelsen and Sébastien Ogier returned under Rally 2, although the Norwegian admitted that his i20 had been detuned for reliability reasons and Ogier suggested that his motivation was not quite there.

That paved the way for a determined Jari-Matti Latvala (also in Rally 2) to set the quickest time. A costly left-rear puncture on the stage for Greensmith gifted the WRC 2 lead to Stéphane Lefebvre with Pienazek moving into second.

The 22.22km of the Cabeceiras de Basto stage followed soon afterwards and the three Citroëns continued their road sweeping duties.

Suninen continued to defend his fourth position and Evans beat Sordo to consolidate second with the fastest time. The fourth quickest time for a cautious Neuville saw the Belgian’s advantage over Evans reduced to 12.7 seconds heading to the monstrous Amarante special.

A clean run through the longest special of the rally would be crucial for the front-runners in all categories. Breen struggled with road-sweeping duties, but Meeke was running strongly until his C3 WRC snapped sideways 31km into the stage and launched itself down the banking and into the trees.

Lappi reduced Suninen’s hold on fourth to 4.8 seconds, as Neuville, Evans and Sordo headed to service in the podium places that they had started out this morning.

Sordo’s performance in the last stage reduced Evans’s hold on second place to just five seconds, but Neuville delivered a crushing pace in the final kilometres to extend his lead in stunning fashion with the fastest time.

Tidemand moved ahead of Pienazek to take second place behind Lefebvre in WRC 2 and Rädstrom found himself in a massive WRC 3 lead over Ireland’s Callum Devine after Bergvist stopped near the end of SS12.

Rally Stewards amended the stage times that had been given to both Suninen and Øsberg in SS7 on Friday. The adjustment meant that Suninen started the re-run of Vieira do Minha 11.2 seconds ahead of Lappi.

Lappi posted a time of 10min 54.1sec on hard tyres through the first special but Suninen managed to extend his advantage by six-tenths to 11.8 seconds and also reduced Sordo’s grasp on third to 9.2 seconds.

Evans was not to be denied, however, and the Welshman set a sensational fastest time on hard tyres to extend his lead over Sordo to 14.1 seconds and reduce Neuville’s lead to 23.6, as Ogier and Suninen gave Ford a stage 1-2-3.

There were isolated rain showers in SS14 and Øsberg survived a spin on a slippery section and received help from spectators with the loss of around 40 seconds. Lappi admitted it was treacherous under braking where the rain had soaked the gravel surface and he ceded another nine-tenths of a second to Suninen.

 Neuville benefited from the changeable conditions to push his lead back to 28 seconds, as Evans edged a little further in front of Sordo in second place and Latvala claimed another quickest time.

A flying Tidemand continued to apply the pressure on Lefebvre in WRC 2. Despite his massive time loss on Friday, the Swede found himself just 21.7 seconds behind the Frenchman after another fastest time in SS14. Pienazek and Greensmith retained third and fourth, but Lefebvre was frantically working on his car at the end of the stage to change a puncture.

A second pass through Amarante followed before the return to the overnight halt and rain was falling towards the end of the stage.

Sordo survived a half spin with the loss of around seven seconds but managed to hold off Suninen to maintain third place. There were no changes at the top of the leaderboard on a stage where Ogier claimed a first quickest time.

Greensmith retired from WRC 2 with broken suspension on the road section to the special, Chile’s Pedro Heller stopped in the stage and Tidemand stormed into what would have seemed like an unlikely WRC 2 lead after yesterday.


Tomorrow (Sunday), drivers will tackle the remaining five short special stages in a hectic morning session that gets underway with the first of two runs through the 8.64km of Montim.

A first pass through the legendary Fafe stage of 11.18km and its massive jump near the finish follows. Crews tackle the 11.89km of Luilhas once before a regrouping stop in Fafe, prior to the conclusion of competition with the second run through Fafe, which acts as the traditional points-scoring Power Stage.

2018 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – positions after SS15 (unofficial @ 18.20hrs)

1. Thierry Neuville (BEL)/Nicolas Gilsoul (BEL) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC        3hrs 16min 30.0sec

2. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC                3hrs 17min 09.8sec

3. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Carlos del Barrio (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC            3hrs 17min 27.2sec

4. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta WRC            3hrs 17min 31.9sec

5. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)/Janne Ferm (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC            3hrs 17min 43.0sec

6. Mads Østberg (NOR)/Torstein Eriksen (NOR) Citroën C3 WRC            3hrs 19min 44.1sec

7. Craig Breen (IRL)/Scott Martin (GBR) Citroën C3 WRC                3hrs 21min 23.1sec

8. Pontus Tidemand (SWE)/Jonas Andersson (SWE) Škoda Fabia R5            3hrs 29min 22.7sec

9. Lukasz Pienazek (POL)/Przemyslaw Mazur (POL) Škoda Fabia R5            3hrs 30min 42,1sec

10. Stéphane Lefebvre (FRA)/Gabin Moureau (FRA) Citroën C3 R5            3hrs 31min 30.4sec

Miguel Fonseca,  Neil Perkins -  photo Red Bull


19.05.2018 / MaP

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