Kris Meeke became the fifth different leader of Vodafone Rally de Portugal as he stormed to the front of the pack in Friday afternoon’s opening speed test.
Stage info: SS5
Viana do Castelo 1, 26.70km
Last year’s stage is extended by 10.9km to offer a tougher challenge. It is the fastest test of the day and one with plenty of loose surface gravel to hinder early starters. It begins on a sandy surface before a short section of cobblestones at 4.6km. There are several other surface changes and plenty of climbing before the road narrows in the second half, with twisty sections among trees.
Third fastest time through the repeated Viana do Castelo special stage was enough for the Citroën C3 pilot to demote Jari-Matti Latvala. But the intense fight for supremacy remained as tight as ever – the Briton’s advantage was just 0.2sec.
His front tyres were badly worn at the finish, but Meeke had two spares in the back of the C3. “I have two spares I can bring into play, that’s why I brought them. Let’s see how it works over the whole loop. For me this was the best choice for the loop,” he said.
Meeke had three hard and three soft compound Michelin tyres onboard to combat the sandy roads, which were cut up and rutted by the morning pass. Tyre choice was the main talking point during the mid-leg service and the drivers’ options were varied.
Hyundai duo Hayden Paddon and Dani Sordo topped the stage times. Paddon changed the differential and suspension settings on his i20 Coupe in service and charged through the stage 4.2sec quicker than Sordo, with Meeke less than a second adrift.
Fourth for Ott Tänak left him 1.1sec behind Latvala’s Toyota Yaris. The Estonian conceded a few tenths early in the stage as the hard compound rubber on the front of his Ford Fiesta took time to warm up.
Craig Breen was seventh quickest in his C3 and that kept him fourth overall. He was 1.9sec off the lead and 2.7sec clear of Paddon, who ousted road opener Sébastien Ogier from fifth.
Mads Østberg dropped almost 3min 30sec after stopping to change a front right puncture midway through.
Stéphane Lefebvre successfully nursed his C3 back to service following his morning roll. Repairs to his battered car took a couple of minutes longer than allowed and he headed off for the afternoon with a 20sec penalty.