Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja hold the lead at Rally de Portugal as M-Sport’s Ecoboost-powered Ford Fiesta WRC continues to dominate the time sheets.
With the Estonians leading the way, all three points-scoring Fiestas find themselves inside the top six after nine hotly contested stages.
Proving to have the speed and the strength, M-Sport’s trio of Fiestas have overcome all that was thrown at them to deliver an impressive start to the first gravel event on European soil.
Team Principal, Malcolm Wilson OBE, said:
“This is an incredible era for the FIA World Rally Championship and today’s action just goes to prove that. The competition is so close. It’s fantastic for the fans, but I can tell you that it’s pretty nerve-wracking for us watching the times come in!
“Ott has the perfect road position for tomorrow and there is no question that he has the ability to challenge for the win. We saw last year what he is capable of and he’s had some really strong performances so far this year too.
“Having said that, we’ve seen how many times the lead has changed today. Anything can happen, but all of our cars are in great shape and I have no doubt that they’ll all give it their best.
“Sébastien too has done a fantastic job from first on the road. To be in third and so close to the lead at the end of the day, I personally think that this has been his best day of rallying since he joined the team.”
TÄNAK AND JÄRVEOJA
Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja hold the lead at Rally de Portugal. Having built their speed throughout the day, the Estonians are currently on top of an epic battle for the win.
Posting the joint-fastest time through the final stage of the morning (SS4) and a string of competitive times through the afternoon, Tänak soon took to the head of the standings – holding a slender 0.1 second advantage after the second pass of Caminha (SS6).
On that same stage however, the 29-year-old also picked up some damage to the wishbone and had to nurse his Ford Fiesta WRC as best he could though the final speed tests.
Proving his adaptability and his fortitude – as well as the strength of the Fiesta – the Estonian remained focused and actually extended his lead.
When others were caught out by the tricky conditions, Tänak combined speed and intelligence with his customary dose of determination to take a 4.6 second advantage into tomorrow’s second day of competition.
SS1: 12th (+2.4)
SS2: =4th (+3.9) SS3: 3rd (+1.9)
SS5: 4th (+5.7)
SS6: 3rd (+2.0) SS7: 3rd (+4.6)
SS8: 4th (+1.0)
SS9: 5th (+0.8)
Ott Tänak (1st) said:
“It’s great to be in the lead of the rally. The plan always was to get a good start position for tomorrow and it looks as though we’ve made a good job of that.
“We struggled a bit this afternoon with some damage to the wishbone on the middle stage [SS6]. We had to make some repairs, so I’m happy to see that it stayed together and we made it back to service still in the lead.
“As we saw today, the competition is really tight and everyone is going at pretty much the same pace. It’s really good to see that the competition is so strong and I’m sure that will continue into tomorrow. We just need to keep pushing and keep smart.”
OGIER AND INGRASSIA
Showing exactly what makes them the four-time World Champions, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia are in podium position after the first day of competition at Rally de Portugal.
Opening the road, the pairing were acutely aware that they would lose time sweeping a clean line through the loose gravel. Undeterred and in spite of their disadvantage, they delivered a perfect drive and significantly decreased the deficit over the second pass.
Keeping their Ford Fiesta WRC clear of trouble and showing impressive speed, the Frenchmen limited any potential time loss and are currently just 6.2 seconds adrift of the lead.
With a more favoured road position tomorrow, Ogier will be hungry for more and keen to challenge for another victory behind the wheel of the Fiesta.
SS1: 6th (+0.7)
SS2: 7th (+5.6) SS3: 6th (+4.3)
SS4: 4th (+1.2)
SS5: 9th (+9.9)
SS6: 6th (+2.4) SS7: 2nd (+2.6)
SS9: 4th (+0.6)
Sébastien Ogier (3rd) said:
“Overall, I think we can be really happy with our day. It was tough to open the road, but we pushed hard through all of the stages and I’m very pleased with our position tonight.
“It got quite rough for the second loop which is always a bit more risky, but for sure it's faster to be further back – cleaning the road is never easy. If I could choose, I would always prefer to start from the back but it’s part of the game and I think we’ve done a really good job today.
“The competition is so tight at the moment and we came really close to catching Dani on the closing stages – just 0.4 seconds at the end of the day! It’s certainly going to be an interesting one tomorrow. The rally is still anyone’s for the taking and we’ll give it our all like always.”
EVANS AND BARRITT
Elfyn Evans and Daniel Barritt got their Rally de Portugal off to a good start on Thursday evening with the fourth fastest time through the opening Super Special – just 0.4 seconds adrift of the lead.
A mixed bag then followed for the Welshman who combined a series of second fastest times with more arduous moments – namely struggling with inconsistent grip levels and picking up a rear-right puncture through the first pass of Ponte de Lima (SS4).
That puncture cost Evans close to 15 seconds and dropped him down to 10th place overall. But the 28-year-old soon picked up the pace and gained four places to move into the top six – just 18.3 seconds adrift of the lead.
SS1: 4th (+0.4)
SS2: 8th (+8.0) SS3: 2nd (+1.3)
SS4: 10th (+15.6)
SS5: =5th (+5.8)
SS6: 2nd (+0.4) SS7: 4th (+7.1)
SS8: 6th (+1.4)
SS9: 3rd (+0.6)
Elfyn Evans (6th) said:
“It’s been an okay day to be fair. We had a few little issues this morning and I didn’t get off to a great start. It was quite damp and it didn’t suit the tyres so well – we prefer it when it’s a bit dryer – but the middle stage was good. Unfortunately we then picked up a puncture [on the last stage of the morning, SS4] and lost what I think was about 15 seconds to the leaders.
“The gap has stayed the same this afternoon and if you take the puncture out of the equation we would have been looking at quite a positive position. But it is what it is, and we’ll keep fighting tomorrow. It’s good that everyone is so close, and I think everyone will be going hard tomorrow so we need to do our best.”
1. Ott Tänak / Martin Järveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1:33:41.4
2. Dani Sordo / Marc Marti (Hyundai 120 Coupe WRC) +3.6
3. Sébastien Ogier / Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +6.2
4. Thierry Neuville / Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai 120 Coupe WRC) +10.8
5. Craig Breen / Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +11.8
6. Elfyn Evans / Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +18.1
7. Juho Hänninen / Kaj Lindstrom (Toyota Yaris WRC) +49.8
8. Esapekka Lappi / Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1:05.6
9. Andreas Mikkelsen / Anders Jaeger (Skoda Fabia R5) +3:16.5
10. Mads Østberg / Ola Fløene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3:49.6