Portugal driver report: Part 1
We look at how the top drivers coped at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20)
A pretty miserable weekend for the likeable Belgian [above]. Opting for hard compound tyres on Friday cost more time than he anticipated, and left him more than a minute off the lead. That became irrelevant when he rolled his i20 in Saturday’s opener - and positives were hard to find. Pre-rally he ended speculation about a 2016 return to M-Sport by confirming he was not going anywhere.
Sébastien Ogier (Volkswagen Polo R)
This was 8.2sec away from being Ogier’s finest drive yet. That was all that separated him from team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala after a stunning drive, typified by a hat-trick of stage wins on Saturday afternoon in the worst of the conditions. His tyre management was exemplary and while we all know Ogier doesn’t like losing, second place and a Power Stage win increased his championship lead. Job done.
Kris Meeke (DS 3)
Followed his Argentina win last month by being the only driver capable of fighting with the resurgent Volkswagen trio. The Ulsterman ran out of suitable tyres on Saturday afternoon and his hopes of squeezing Andreas Mikkelsen out of a podium place ended with a broken anti-roll bar on Sunday. But fourth place promoted him to fourth in the points and it's hard to find fault with another good performance.
Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta RS)
Not the debut that Evans wanted in the latest Ford Fiesta RS. A fly-by-wire throttle issue, ironically not a new part, left him stranded for over an hour in Friday’s opener and then clouting a rock and damaging the suspension in Saturday’s first stage piled more woe on the Welshman. On the bright side, at least he and co-driver Dan Barritt saved the brand new car from burning to a cinder after the latter incident. Finished 69th and last.
Martin Prokop (Ford Fiesta RS)
Prokop spent most of the event learning how to drive the latest incarnation of Fiona the Fiesta. He knew the car was an improvement on the previous version, but now he has to learn how to drive it. He made progress to take a points finish but accepts that there is plenty more to come once he has more time behind the wheel to understand its intricacies.
Andreas Mikkelsen (Volkswagen Polo R)
Hard to stop the Norwegian from raving about how much he liked the 2015-specification Polo R on his debut in it. Won his first stage in the car and after briefly losing the lead to Dani Sordo, regained top spot on Friday morning. Traded seconds with Meeke in their battle for third and the bottom step of the podium put him back into second in the points. That first win is coming ever closer……
Robert Kubica (Ford Fiesta RS)
First points of the season for the Pole on his return to the WRC after missing Argentina for a team restructure. Having jettisoned the Italian A-Style squad, he is now running his own team with M-Sport support. Hadn’t driven the new Fiesta RS before shakedown, so dropped his pace a notch, kept the car on the road and was rewarded with ninth. Doesn’t sound great - but way, way better than shunting.