Wednesday | 25 May 2016

Portugal Driver Report: Part 1

We look at how the leading drivers coped on Portuguese gravel in the first part of our summary.

Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20 WRC)
Result: 29th
Neuville's miserable run of luck continued in Portugal for reasons that were completely out of his control. The Belgian (above) lost a little time on Friday when a leaking valve caused a flat tyre, but it was a solid start generally and he rounded off the leg with fastest times on the two Porto street stages. Lying fifth, and in touch with the lead pack, he had reason to feel optimistic about his chances on Saturday. Instead a fuel miscalculation by his team meant his i20 ran dry midway through SS11. "Mistakes happen," he shrugged on Sunday afternoon. "We did our job." 

Jari-Matti Latvala (Volkswagen Polo R)
Result: 6th
Latvala got off to an awkward start with a car set up for drier conditions than those he found on Friday morning. Even a fastest time on SS4 didn't change his view that he could do better. Fresh from service, Jari-Matti didn't have much of a chance to put things right before his rally went pear-shaped. Clouting his Polo R into a huge hole left it without power-steering and he slipped further behind the leaders with each of the next four blister-inducing stages. From then on, Latvala's rally was more about testing and experimenting before a final push on the Power Stage netted him two bonus points and almost fifth position when Eric Camilli spun.

Martin Prokop (Ford Fiesta RS)
Result: 8th
Prokop missed the previous round in Argentina, so it was no surprise that he took a while to get reacquainted with his car. By day two however the Czech Republic driver was still struggling to find the right mix of push and caution for the rocky roads. As a privateer he also became concerned about damaging his Fiesta RS before the next round in Sardinia. That, combined with a comfortable and pretty decent top-ten place, meant it was a subdued performance generally.
Andreas Mikkelsen (Volkswagen Polo R)
Result: 2nd
Top marks for Mikkelsen who delivered big time after admitting on Saturday morning that he was "sick and tired of going slow." Up to that point he had adopted a cautious approach and had not shown much in the way of attack. But the more aggressive Mikkelsen 2.0 was a different beast and he rated Saturday and Sunday as two of his best days in a rally car. Now second in the drivers' standings, the revitalised Norwegian has the title in his sights.

Kris Meeke (DS 3)
Result: 1st
As part-timers this season, Meeke and his team went to Portugal with no championship pressure and few expectations of success. And with Citroën's focus firmly on 2017, it would be no surprise if the ageing DS 3 has lost ground to its rivals, or if Meeke was a bit rally rusty. Instead, Meeke bagged his second WRC rally win and gave everybody a reminder of why next year is going to be a cracker. The Brit was at his confident best, making the most of a road position advantage early on and then managing his lead perfectly to bag the 25 points without any dramas. Top job.

Yazeed Al-Rajhi (Ford Fiesta RS)
Result: 11th
Considering he is a newcomer to the top level of WRC competition, a trouble-free run to 11th position was a great result for the Saudi Arabian. While the Ford Fiesta is a car he is familiar with, it's only this year that he has run the full World Rally Car version rather than the RRC of the last four seasons. Portugal was his first gravel rally in the car and he wisely adopted a cautious approach - both in terms of driving and set-up - before pushing harder as the event progressed. He'll hope to do the same on the next round in Sardinia.
Ott Tänak (Ford Fiesta RS)
Result: Retired
This was Tanak's first WRC appearance on DMACK's new generation tyre and although his event was cut short, he and the team will take plenty of positives. There were concerns on Friday's opener, however, when the Estonian reported the tyres had 'given up' after 15km, but he managed them better on the following stage and went third-quickest. By SS4 Tanak was praising the 'big step forward' that had been made. Then of course it was was all over. Tanak collected the same massive hole that caught out Hayden Paddon, and his car was lightly toasted next to the Kiwi's flaming Hyundai. Good while it lasted.

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