SS3/4: Sordo sets pace

Dani Sordo became the fourth driver to lead Vodafone Rally de Portugal in as many speed tests after ending a dramatic Friday morning at the top of the standings.

Stage info: SS3/4

SS3: Caminha 1, 18.11km
Caminha runs predominantly in the open with spectacular views over the Atlantic Ocean near the start. Much of the forest has been destroyed by fire and this improves driver visibility. It is a mix of tight twisty roads and faster flowing sections with a few small crests. The surface is bumpy but it’s fast in places with several long straights.

SS4: Ponte de Lima 1, 27.54km
Ponte de Lima is best known for being the stage in which Hayden Paddon and Ott Tänak crashed two years ago when the Kiwi’s Hyundai i20 burned out. The roads are wide and smooth but extremely twisty, with hardly a straight to speak of. There are plenty of surface changes as it includes sandy gravel, cobblestones, concrete and asphalt. A lot of tree felling means the stage is more open than in previous years.

The Spaniard won the twisty Ponte de Lima special stage to demote Kris Meeke and Hayden Paddon and return to the Matosinhos service park with a 4.6sec advantage in his Hyundai i20.

Sordo conserved his soft compound Michelin rubber through the previous two tests and threw caution to the wind. “It was a difficult stage and I pushed like hell. I didn’t make any mistakes and with this road I couldn’t do much better,” he said.

Despite having no intercom inside his Citroën C3, Kris Meeke was fastest through Caminha to take the lead. The Ulsterman lost his rhythm in Ponte de Lima’s twists and turns and sixth fastest, more than 8sec adrift of Sordo, relegated him to second.

Hayden Paddon grabbed the lead in the morning’s first stage, but as the sandy roads cut up and offered less grip to the later starters, the Kiwi couldn’t match his earlier pace. He was 0.2sec adrift of Meeke in another i20.

It was a morning of turmoil for Toyota. Ott Tänak’s retirement with a damaged cooling system was swiftly followed by that of team-mate Jari-Matti Latvala, who parked his Yaris in Caminha with broken front suspension.

Tänak said his rally was over as the engine was too damaged to continue, but Toyota Gazoo sporting director Kaj Lindström said a decision would be made after the Estonian’s car returned to service and was examined.

Sébastien Ogier was first in the start order and feared the worst as he cleaned the sandy tracks in his Ford Fiesta. But he posted top three times in Caminha and Ponte de Lima as conditions swung back in his favour to hold fourth, only 7.3sec from the lead.

Championship rival Thierry Neuville was hot on his heels and 2.1sec behind in fifth. The Belgian struggled to turn his i20 into corners but held a 1.1sec advantage over team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen.

Craig Breen likened conditions to a beach and slipped from fourth to seventh in a C3, ahead of a tightly-clustered trio of Elfyn Evans, Teemu Suninen and Mads Østberg. Evans lost a handful of seconds after spinning his Fiesta in Caminha.

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