Thierry Neuville headed the Rally de Portugal leaderboard after a dramatic afternoon that saw three of the top crews retire, numerous others hit problems and each long stage led by a different crew. The Belgian goes into Saturday’s stages with 17.7 seconds in hand to Elfyn Evans, who has climbed from eighth with Dani Sordo now in third.
Neuville went into the repeated tests fifth overall, 9.4 seconds adrift of the lead, but dropped to sixth in the opener when conditions were rougher than anticipated and caution proved to be the name of the game. He then climbed to fourth with a stage victory as Kris Meeke also suffered a puncture, and was then catapulted into the lead in the final long mountain stage with another fastest time, aided when all but one of the drivers in front of him hit problems. The Belgian also won the day’s two closing super special stages. Evans, eighth going into the afternoon loop, was also balancing speed with caution and after staying out of trouble the Welshman moved into a fine second. Sordo, leader going into the afternoon, struggled on soft tires this afternoon but he too was able to capitalize when others hit trouble.
Fiesta WRC driver Teemu Suninen has made a few small mistakes but has climbed from ninth to fourth overnight, 11.4 seconds ahead of Esapekka Lappi. The Finnish Toyota driver has had a better afternoon after setup changes but a broken damper made the closing stages of the day tricky. He is just 2.5 seconds ahead of Mads Ostberg, who has also had a better feeling in the C3 WRC during the repeated stages.
Kris Meeke suffered two tire issues Friday afternoon and dropped from an early afternoon lead to seventh after the final two super special stages, another disappointing outing for the Northern Irishman who continues to suffer bad luck. Craig Breen has fallen much further back after stopping to change a puncture in the final long stage and is eighth, over two minutes off the lead. Gus Greensmith and Lukasz Pieniazek round out the top 10, the pair also heading the FIA WRC 2 Championship category.
Three of the leading crews retired Friday afternoon, such has been the rate of attrition on one of the roughest events this year. After a sensational drive to fourth despite running first on the road, Sebastien Ogier hit a small tree stump in a bank and the sharp impact broke the steering. Andreas Mikkelsen had power steering problems and was ultimately forced out in the final mountain stage with a loss of engine oil pressure, and Hayden Paddon retired after a heavy impact in a ditch. The crew was unscathed although the Kiwi was taken to hospital for precautionary checks.
The FIA Junior and WRC 3 Championships are now being led by Dennis Radstrom, who has taken the advantage from Emil Bergkvist. The battle is however intense with just five seconds separating the pair.