WRC ORLEN 80th Rally Poland
Starts: Thursday, June 27, 2024 at 8:00:00 AM
ERC Delfi Rally Estonia
Starts: Friday, July 5, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM
Ferratum World RX of Sweden 1
Starts: Saturday, July 6, 2024 at 6:00:00 AM

Fri 10 May 2024

FRIDAY MIDDAY: Katsuta tops red-hot Portugal battle

Takamoto Katsuta delivered on his promise of adopting a more aggressive approach at the start of WRC rallies, seizing the lead of Vodafone Rally de Portugal on an action-packed Friday morning.

Three different drivers claimed stage victories across the loop’s four challenging gravel tests, which were flanked by tens of thousands of enthusiastic fans eager to witness the world’s finest in action. So widespread was the support that local schools were even closed for the day to allow students a chance to witness the spectacle.

Toyota GR Yaris star Katsuta had promised to push from the get-go and he certainly delivered on that, winning the day’s opener at Mortágua. He overtook overnight leader Thierry Neuville in the following test as the Hyundai i20 N man struggled for traction whilst opening the road, then kept himself in the lead thanks to a string of top-five stage times.

Ott Tänak held the runner-up position for much of the morning until his Hyundai colleague Neuville mounted a late charge in the final stage at Arganil. The Belgian reached the mid-leg tyre-fitting zone just 2.9sec behind Katsuta, with a mere 7.5sec blanketing the top five.

“For sure, it’s good to keep the position but this afternoon will be another challenge for everybody,” Katsuta said. “It’s going to be very rough so we will try to keep pushing and let’s see.

“I think we are still missing a bit of confidence,” he continued. “I could push more, but at the same time I was making a mess a little bit. I need to be a bit more clean and it can be better in the afternoon.”

Championship leader Neuville overcame the challenges posed by clearing the dusty roads by focusing on preserving his tyres, a strategy that ultimately paid dividends by the end of the loop.

He was the only driver to opt for a full soft compound package on Arganil and won the stage by 2.2sec, vaulting from fourth to an unlikely second in the process.

After grappling with understeer in the early stages, reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä found his rhythm in Arganil and overtook Tänak to trail Neuville by a mere 0.4sec. Tänak settled for fourth, a further eight-tenths in arrears.

It was a challenging morning for Toyota’s Sébastien Ogier, who found himself sitting fifth at midday. The Frenchman reported a lack of confidence after SS2 and encountered difficulty hearing co-driver Vincent Landais’ calls when their intercom malfunctioned in SS4. Also losing time was Dani Sordo who, despite winning two stages, dropped to sixth when the hybrid unit in his Hyundai stopped working.

Adrien Fourmaux and Elfyn Evans placed seventh and eighth respectively while Grégoire Munster and WRC2 leader Oliver Solberg completed the top 10.