Saturday | 21 May 2016

SS11: Meeke’s Portugal lead nears a minute

Kris Meeke extended his Vodafone Rally de Portugal lead to almost a minute on Saturday morning during an action-packed opening to the longest leg of the event.

Stage info: SS10 / 11

SS10: Baião 1, 18.66km
Saturday’s opener has two different characteristics. It’s narrow throughout, but the first half is fast between high banks, while the second part is more twisty and slower. The surface is sandy, except for a small section of asphalt. It claimed big-name victims in 2015, with Thierry Neuville rolling and Elfyn Evans ripping a wheel from his car.

SS11: Marão 1, 26.31km
A contender for the most picturesque stage of the season. The opening half climbs on a fast, sandy surface to the rally’s high point at 1222 metres, with hills on one side of the road and fields and big drops on the other. The second part is no less stunning with a fast, wide descent, twisting between big boulders in a slower section at 14km.

He took advantage of a low start position to win the Baião and Marão speed tests and extend his overnight lead from 31.9sec to 53.9sec ahead of Sébastien Ogier.

“There was a lot of road cleaning and more grip than I expected and we’re taking the benefits,” said the Citroën DS 3 driver. “I wasn’t so comfortable in the second stage last year but I’ve done a lot of work on pace notes.”

Road opener Ogier was resigned to sweeping the loose gravel. “It’s really dry and the cleaning effect isn’t so good for me. I was hoping for a little bit more dampness. I’ll do the best I can with the conditions we have, but the ground is soft so it will be rutted in the second loop,” he said.

Andreas Mikkelsen was third in both stages in his Volkswagen Polo R, having abandoned his cautious attitude. “I’m sick and tired of going slowly. Now we push. The car is awesome, we’ve made small changes and that’s made a difference,” he said.

Mikkelsen is only 4.4sec behind third-placed Dani Sordo, who had a mixed start. He lost time in the twisty opening stage and felt his Hyundai i20 was moving too much at the rear.

Eric Camilli climbed to fifth in his Ford Fiesta RS after Thierry Neuville and Stéphane Lefebvre retired. Neuville stopped in Marão with a fuel problem while Lefebvre exited sixth after hitting a rock in the previous test and breaking a suspension arm on Citroën’s DS 3 (pictured above).

Mads Østberg dropped a minute with a broken rear driveshaft in his Fiesta RS but bizarrely moved up to sixth following the demise of Lefebvre and Neuville. Kevin Abbring was an early casualty for a second day, the Dutchman out after hitting a rock in his i20.

Neither Hayden Paddon nor Ott Tänak restarted today after their fiery exits yesterday, but Henning Solberg, who used his flameproof underwear to extinguish a fire in his Ford Fiesta RS after he went off the road, returned to the action.

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