We begin our bumper review of the WRC drivers from last weekend’s Rally de Portugal with the first of three round-ups.
Sébastien Ogier (Volkswagen Polo R)
The good news for his rivals is that Ogier proved he is human. The choice of hard tyres on Friday afternoon was a mistake and he ended the day in third. The bad news is that he was untouchable on Saturday afternoon on the soft rubber he hadn’t used the previous day, and took almost 36sec out of Mikko Hirvonen. Sunday was a stroll in the park as a result. Simply sublime.
Kris Meeke (Citroen DS3)
Another crash-induced retirement. It didn’t help that, on his Portugal debut, he made pace notes when he couldn’t even see the roads due to rain, let alone which way they went. Nor that co-driver Paul Nagle was ill. But crashing at the same spot as Elfyn Evans, especially when Nagle warned Meeke they were approaching ‘Elfyn’s corner’, was disappointing. The pressure is building for Argentina……
Mikko Hirvonen (Ford Fiesta RS)
Portugal was the best we have seen from Hirvonen for a long time. Too long. Led on Friday and although he couldn’t fend off Ogier (no shame in that), second was just reward for a much improved drive. If he can build on this with the front-running consistency he used to show as a matter of course, then the next four gravel rallies could propel him right up the championship standings.
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai i20)
Bit of a mixed weekend for the Belgian. Understeer on Friday morning left him unhappy, but set-up changes brought a stage win and carried him into the top six. Damaged suspension on the third day and a broken driveshaft on the final stage left him yo-yoing up and down the order. Seventh was probably less than he deserved but that stage victory will be a further source of encouragement.
Ott Tänak (Ford Fiesta RS)
Tänak proved his Sweden speed was no flash in the pan. Second after the opening day and still on the podium until he crashed at the same point that Jari-Matti Latvala rolled off the edge of the earth five years ago. Ott had earlier said co-driver Raigo Mölder was slightly late calling the notes on occasions, and he felt this contributed to the off. Imagine what they will do once they perfect their relationship!