The class rookie, in a Ford Fiesta RRC, heads the similar car of Maciej Oleksowicz and local hero Pedro Meireles in the category standings after Craig Breen and Hayden Paddon both hit trouble.
“It was a really crazy day,” said Al Rajhi’s team manager Simon Jean-Joseph. “He did a really good job regarding the situation and the weather. It was really difficult for him because he had never had so much fog in his life but he managed those conditions, did not make one mistake, so I’m very proud of him.”
Breen, who led the SWRC points prior to the event, suffered a tough start to day two when his Fiesta ground to a halt following a watersplash on stage five. Although he was eventually able to complete the run, the same thing happened on stage six and he was forced to retire. Unfortunately, damage to his car’s engine is too great to allow him to restart on Saturday under Rally 2 regulations.
“It’s all over,” he said. “There was too much water and the engine has died, no Rally 2 for us. I’m gutted because I was really liking the tricky conditions.”
Hayden Paddon, the reigning Production Car world champion, held the category lead following Thursday’s four stages but, like Breen, was also out of luck on Friday’s first test when an electrical fault struck his Skoda Fabia 1.5 kilometres into the run.
“We don’t know the exact cause yet, but we will get the car fixed to rejoin tomorrow under [Rally 2] rules and therefore get valuable championship points,” Paddon said on Friday evening.
“The scenes here in Portugal are unlike any other rally; three of today’s six stages have been cancelled after a lot of overnight rain has caused the roads to be treacherous and many competitors have retired,” the New Zealander added.
Paddon will return to the action in fourth position, albeit several minutes behind third-placed Meireles, in a Mitsubishi Lancer. Al Rajhi’s lead over Pole Oleksowicz stands at 6m01.8s.