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Fri 12 May 2023

Charging Tänak grabs early Portugal lead

Ott Tänak opened a slender lead at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on a furious Friday morning which served up drama for some of the FIA World Rally Championship’s leading crews.

Tänak’s masterful drive through Góis, the second stage of the day, elevated the 35-year-old Estonian from third to first overall. He completed the opening loop just ahead of defending WRC champion Kalle Rovanperä to lead the FIA World Rally Championship’s fifth round by three seconds.

A furious beginning to the legendary gravel fixture also saw Tänak’s team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet run into trouble when his M-Sport Ford Puma caught fire at the end of SS3. Loubet and co-driver Nicolas Gilsoul - winners of SS1 - were able to continue after extinguishing the flames but dropped precious time in the process.

“It was, overall, better than I expected,” Tänak said. “The first stage was a bit shaky suspension-wise, but the other stages had a more sandy and softer surface and everything was working okay. It’s going to be rough [this afternoon] and it’s going to be a bit [about] survival.”

Rovanperä was blighted by understeer which resulted in excessive wear to his Toyota GR Yaris’ front tyres. He made set-up tweaks before the Arganil stage and climbed from fourth to second overall by posting the fastest time.

Dani Sordo, aided by a low start position, completed the loop just 0.6sec behind Rovanperä in third. The roads were swept clean of slippery loose sand by the early starters, offering the Spaniard more grip, although he regretted his decision to run hard compound Pirelli tyres on the front of his Hyundai for SS3.

“I think the hard tyres were not working well,” Sordo revealed. “There was a lot of loose and not a lot of traction.”

His team-mate Thierry Neuville, who relied solely on soft compound rubber, ended a further 11.0sec in arrears. The Belgian’s standing was helped by the demise of Takamoto Katuta, who retired his Toyota with suspected alternator failure before SS3.

Championship leader Elfyn Evans tried his best to minimise time loss from the worst start position at the head of the field. He trailed Tänak by 18.0sec at the mid-leg tyre fitting zone, eight-tenths clear Loubet.

Esapekka Lappi was eighth overall while WRC2 drivers Adrien Fourmaux, Oliver Solberg and Andreas Mikkelsen completed the leaderboard.

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