Neuville closes on Rally Portugal win

Image by McKlein/LAT

Neuville closes on Rally Portugal win

Rallying

Neuville closes on Rally Portugal win

Saturday afternoon

Thierry Neuville has again extended his advantage at the head of the Rally de Portugal leaderboard after the repeated afternoon loop of stages, and the Belgian goes into tomorrow’s closing stages with 39.8 seconds in hand to Elfyn Evans. The Welshman and third-placed Dani Sordo have pushed hard but a last stage half-spin cost the Spaniard time and he finished 17.4 seconds adrift of Evans.

This afternoon’s re-run of the stages proved tricky for the crews with rain and standing water in places. Neuville was cautious in the rough sections of the first stage losing more time than he’d hoped but, like this morning, set a hot pace in the longest stage to overnight with a healthy advantage with 32 competitive miles and five stages remaining. Evans was fastest through the afternoon’s opener and thanks to Sordo’s spin in the final stage added a few seconds to his advantage.

Teemu Suninen is fourth, the Finn on the limit and closing to within 4.7 seconds of Sordo by the end of the day. He’s also in a fight with fellow countryman Esapekka Lappi who is 11.1 seconds adrift and also pushing to the maximum with some moments along the way. Following Kris Meeke’s retirement from an accident he and co-driver Paul Nagle walked away from unscathed, Mads Ostberg has climbed to sixth but is over three minutes adrift of the lead on his return to Citroën after a three-rally absence. He managed the C3’s set up well this morning but struggled more in the afternoon after changes during service. Craig Breen is a distant seventh but was relieved to get through the day.

Following an early event puncture, Pontus Tidemand has climbed to the head of the FIA WRC 2 Championship standings and the Swede is also eighth overall for Skoda. He heads Lukasz Pieniazek by over a minute with Citroen’s Stephane Lefebvre – who led the category going into the final stage – dropping two positions when he was forced to stop and change a puncture. Dennis Radström continues to hold the advantage in the FIA Junior and WRC 3 Championships, his lead now over four minutes to Callum Devine who picked up a puncture in the final stage. Emil Bergkvist, who led early afternoon, rolled.

Rally 2 runner Jari-Matti Latvala set another fastest time this afternoon and he, Sebastien Ogier – who also won a stage – and Andreas Mikkelsen will doubtless be chasing Power Stage points on Sunday such are their positions further down the leaderboard.

Saturday morning

The longest day of competition lay in wait for the crews today with two loops of three stages split by service, and included the longest test of the rally, Amarante at 23 miles. Neuville and Evans were closely matched in the first two stages, Neuville marginally faster, but Evans clawed back time with a stage win in the second. However, the Belgian powered through the third stage and added an impressive 17.2 seconds to his lead over the Welshman as the crews headed back to the mid-leg service. Dani Sordo continues to impress in the second non-registered Hyundai, despite not having the same good feeling with the car as yesterday. After some set-up changes he was back in the groove in the final stage, pushing hard to close the gap to Evans to just five seconds.

Teemu Suninen is also impressing in the Fiesta WRC and the Finn is holding off Esapekka Lappi who is within striking distance in fifth overall. Mads Ostberg continues his learning curve in the C3 WRC and is focused on increasing his speed as the rally goes on. He is 16.6 seconds behind Lappi but has a comfortable cushion to Craig Breen, the Irish driver dropping lots of time yesterday when he stopped to change a puncture. The remaining positions on the top 10 leaderboard are filled by the FIA WRC 2 Championship crews, led by Citroen’s Stephane Lefebvre. The Frenchman now heads Pontus Tidemand, who has climbed up the leaderboard with three fastest stages times this morning. Gus Greensmith lost the category lead with a puncture.

Kris Meeke went into another unfortunate retirement this morning when he slid wide down a bank and into the trees while holding seventh. Rally 2 returnees Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen all headed back out into the stages today, Latvala taking the opening stage win.

The FIA Junior and WRC 3 Championships are being led by Dennis Radstrom, the Swede with a massive advantage over Callum Devine.

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