Jari-Matti Latvala posted the quickest time during the shakedown session for the fourth round of the World Rally Championship season in Portugal, although things didn't go quite according to plan for a number of drivers further down the order.
Armed with an improved engine in his Focus WRC, the BP Ford Abu Dhabi man posted a time of 3min 08.1secs through the 5.03km stage near the Algarve Stadium service park, which put him 0.1secs clear of the Citroen Xsara of Petter Solberg; the Norwegian looking to build on his podium finish last time out in Cyprus.
Latvala's Ford team-mate Mikko Hirvonen was third quickest ahead of Matthew Wilson, Evgeny Novikov and Henning Solberg, while defending champion Sebastien Loeb was seventh, admitting afterwards that his road position wasn't likely to aid his quest to make it four wins in a row.
“We have good potential and the feeling in the car is good,” he said. “I hope we can fight for victory again but this might be the first one where we have a disadvantage to be first on the road. We have a few evolutions on the car and I hope it will improve the performance and I hope times will be better.”
Dani Sordo was eighth ahead of Mads Ostberg and Federico Villagra, while Marcus Gronholm warmed up for his return to the WRC with the twelfth quickest time.
The shakedown didn't go to plan however for Citroen Junior Team driver Conrad Rautenbach, who clipped a tree-stump and damaged his C4 WRC which is now undergoing repairs ahead of the opening Super Special stage which will kick-off proceedings on Thursday.
“It's tricky on the loose gravel and if you go offline it can be difficult,” he said. “We didn't start well in shakedown but I made a silly mistake pushing too hard. It's not a big problem I don't think and I have lots of faith that the guys will fix the car like new again.”
Shakedown also didn't go to plan for local driver Bernardo Sousa, who is faced with the prospect of missing the event following an accident in his Super 2000 Abarth Grande Punto.
Having hit a rock and damaged a steering arm, he went off the road into a gravel bank with co-driver Jorge Carvalho being taken to hospital afterwards.
“I'm okay, but Jorge has gone to hospital for checks because he has some pain in his shoulder,” Sousa told the WRC website. “The car is badly damaged and as far as this rally goes, it looks bad. Even if they can fix it, I won't compete if Jorge can't do it with me. It's so disappointing. This event has been full of bad luck for me, we even broke down on the recce.”
Patrik Sandell was the quickest of the PWRC runners with the 14th quickest time.
Rally Portugal – Shakedown times (top 15):
1. Jari-Matti Latvala
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 03min 08.1secs
2. Petter Solberg
PS WRT Citroen Xsara WRC 03min 08.2secs
3. Mikko Hirvonen
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 03min 10.5secs
4. Matthew Wilson
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 03min 11.9secs
5. Evgeny Novikov
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC 03min 12.2secs
6. Henning Solberg
Stobart VK Ford Focus WRC 03min 12.4secs
7. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 03min 13.1secs
8. Daniel Sordo
Citroen Total WRT C4 WRC 03min 13.3secs
9. Mads Ostberg
Adapta Subaru Impreza WRC2008 03min 13.6secs
10. Federico Villagra
Munchi's Ford Focus WRC 03min 13.7secs
11. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Junior Team C4 WRC 03min 14.0secs
12. Marcus Gronholm
Prodrive Subaru Impreza WRC2008 03min 17.0secs
13. Khalid Al Qassimi
BP Ford Abu Dhabi Focus RS WRC 03min 19.4secs
14. Patrik Sandell
Skoda Fabia S2000 03min 24.9secs
15. Jarkko Nikara
Mitsubishi Lancer Evo X 03min 27.9secs