Tänak tops Toyota trio in punishing Portugal opener on dusty Friday
Estonian creates impressive gap up front to title rivals Neuville and Ogier.
Ott Tänak led a clean sweep of the podium positions for Toyota Gazoo Racing after Friday’s tough opening leg of Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
He was one of the few drivers to avoid trouble in hot and dusty conditions to build a 17.3sec advantage in a Yaris World Rally Car over Jari-Matti Latvala. Kris Meeke completed Toyota’s treble a further 5.5sec back.
This seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship returned to famous roads near Coimbra for the first time since 2001. Hanging dust prompted organisers to extend start intervals to four minutes to avoid visibility problems.
Second in the start order threatened to hamper Tänak on narrow, twisty roads as he swept away loose gravel to leave cleaner roads for those behind, but he made light of the issue.
He was second initially before gaining a lead he did not relinquish. Two fastest times placed him 6.9sec clear at the midpoint, and he doubled that this afternoon.
“We said before the rally this was a critical day to survive in this event and ensure a better start position for tomorrow. We managed it and now we need to do the rest of the job,” said the Estonian.
Latvala remained hot on his heels until he stalled at a penultimate stage hairpin. The Finn stayed ahead of Meeke, who survived a broken intercom this morning, which required co-driver Seb Marshall to use hand signals to explain their pace notes.
Meeke briefly lost his grip on third to Teemu Suninen, but the Finn fell to sixth when brake failure forced him to zig-zag his Ford Fiesta through the penultimate stage to slow down.
Title rivals Thierry Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20, and Sébastien Ogier, in a Citroën C3, filled the next two places, blanketed by 1.6sec. Both lost time through cleaning, but profited from others’ troubles to climb the order. Neuville dropped 10sec with a stall.
Elfyn Evans dropped four minutes when his Fiesta stopped with an electrical problem in the throttle while, Neuville apart, the day was a disaster for Hyundai.
Dani Sordo led for the first two stages but both he and team-mate Sébastien Loeb spluttered through the third with fuel pressure problems in their i20s. Sordo dropped nearly 19min and Loeb yielded almost 16min.
Saturday’s toughest leg contains more than half the rally’s competitive distance. Crews face a double run over three tests, the opening two through the demanding Cabreira Mountains. They add up to 160.70km.
Leading positions after Friday:
1. O Tänak / M Järveoja EST Toyota Yaris 1hr 03min 26.7sec
2. J-M Latvala / M Anttila FIN Toyota Yaris +17.3sec
3. K Meeke / S Marshall GBR Toyota Yaris +22.8sec
4. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 +24.2sec
5. S Ogier / J Ingrassia FRA Citroën C3 +25.8sec
6. T Suninen / M Salminen FIN Ford Fiesta +1min 15.7sec