Championship leader Sébastien Ogier crashed out of fourth place in Friday afternoon’s opening speed test at Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
Stage info: SS5
Viana do Castelo 2, 26.73km
This 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.
His Ford Fiesta understeered off the road and into the trees on a left corner after 17km of the Viana do Castelo stage. Co-driver Julien Ingrassia quickly positioned their warning triangle on the roadside before the bend, indicating they would not continue.
The Frenchman enjoyed a good morning to hold fourth, limiting his time loss to 7.3sec from leader Dani Sordo despite the disadvantage of starting first on sandy gravel tracks.
Sordo conceded top spot to Kris Meeke, who headed a Citroën C3 1-2 in the stage. He was fastest by 0.8sec from Mads Østberg to overturn his 4.6sec deficit to the Spaniard and move ahead by 1.9sec.
Tyre choice was the big talking point at the finish. Some drivers opted for Michelin’s soft compound rubber, others went for the hard version while a mix of the two was the choice of others.
Loose rocks littered the roads, making them rougher than predicted, and Sordo regretted his option of soft compounds. “Tyres are destroyed,” he said, after jumping out of his Hyundai i20 at the finish, fearing the worst with two more dirt road tests remaining this afternoon.
Hayden Paddon retained third place, 1.1sec behind team-mate Sordo, while Andreas Mikkelsen leap-frogged Thierry Neuville to claim fourth in another i20. The Norwegian was 7.4sec adrift of Paddon.
Fourth fastest for Craig Breen enabled the Irishman to relegate Neuville as well. The C3 driver opened a 4.7sec advantage over the Belgian, who was also worried about the rough roads and his choice of six soft tyres.
“The conditions are much rougher than expected. I really tried to take care of the car. We need to look at the next stages and see if we need to work on the settings a little bit. I’m on full soft tyres so we have to see if that works,” he said.