Thierry Neuville won Vodafone Rally de Portugal to swing the WRC pendulum firmly in his favour. After starting 10 points behind Sébastien Ogier, the Belgian left with a 19-point championship advantage. Here’s how he did it.
Leg 1: Friday
The lead changed hands on six occasions before Neuville took a 17.7sec advantage in his Hyundai i20 over Elfyn Evans after a chaotic day destroyed the hopes of many frontrunners.
His gamble to select soft tyres for the afternoon appeared to have backfired as temperatures rose and the rocky tracks became rougher, but he held his nerve to jump from sixth to first as bedlam broke out around him.
Evans lay second in a Ford Fiesta until a spin demoted him, but he vaulted from seventh to second in the final dirt road stage, ending 6.6sec clear of Dani Sordo’s i20.
Sordo had led but slowed as his soft tyres faded. He headed Teemu Suninen, Esapekka Lappi and Mads Østberg.
Punctures delayed Craig Breen and Kris Meeke, who twice led, while Ogier crashed after hitting a tree stump and breaking a steering arm.
Ott Tänak retired after clouting a rock and damaging his Toyota’s cooling system and team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala broke his front right suspension. Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon exited the lead with impact damage while broken power steering accounted for Andreas Mikkelsen.
Saturday: Leg 2
Neuville doubled his lead to 39.8sec over Evans in more benign conditions after distancing the Welshman through both passes of the 37.60km Amarante test, the longest of the rally.
Evans won two of the six stages, one more than Neuville, to hold a 17.4sec margin over Sordo. The Spaniard slipped into the clutches of Suninen with a final stage spin and they were blanketed by 4.7sec.
Suninen held off Lappi in a furious fight, while Østberg was a distant sixth, the Norwegian conceding a minute after sliding onto a bank. Team-mate Meeke endured more disappointment after rolling his C3. It was to prove the Ulsterman’s final act for Citroën Racing as he was axed four days later.
Sunday: Leg 3
Neuville steered away from trouble to secure his second win of the season by 40.0sec from Evans. Fellow title challengers Ogier and Tänak ended pointless and Neuville pressed home his advantage by claiming four Power Stage bonus points.
Suninen claimed his maiden podium 7.3sec behind Evans. He held off Lappi and Sordo, who was handed a 10sec penalty for dislodging two bales in the Porto street stage. Østberg finished sixth.