Just as he did in Mexico three weeks ago, Citroën Total World Rally Team star Sébastien Ogier paced the shakedown for this weekend's Rally Portugal, the third round on the 2011 World Rally Championship calendar – as an accident for Ken Block left the American and his co-driver in hospital.
In warm and sunny conditions close to the rally's base of Faro, Ogier – who claimed his maiden WRC triumph in Portugal ten months ago, driving for the Citroën Junior Team – pipped countryman and namesake Sébastien Loeb to the top of the order by a single tenth of a second over the 5km Vale de Judeau practice stage in his DS3 WRC.
“Everything was okay and we are happy with the performance,” reported the man who crashed out of the lead of Rally Mexico on the final day, handing victory to Loeb. “We did not make any major changes to the set-up of the car, just some small details.”
Ford Abu Dhabi World Rally Team ace and Crash.net
columnist Jari-Mati Latvala wound up third – a further two tenths adrift – with former World Rally Champion Petter Solberg fourth in his privately-entered Citroën, Rally Sweden hero Mads Østberg fifth in the best of the M-Sport Stobart Fiestas and Mikko Hirvonen sixth. Henning Solberg – whose own Fiesta is differently-liveried for the event in deference to his new sponsor Ludo Mobil – team-mate Matthew Wilson, WRC returnee Kimi Raikkonen and Federico Villagra rounded out the top ten.
The main drama, however, was provided by Block, who along with co-driver Alex Gelsomino was taken to hospital for precautionary checks after clipping a rock and rolling their Fiesta over a bank in what was quite literally a stage-stopping shunt as the car ended up six metres away from the road. A Monster World Rally Team spokesperson has confirmed that both men are happily okay.
Also notable during the shakedown was the WRC debut of MINI's Super 2000-spec John Cooper Works in the hands of reigning two-time Production World Rally Champion Armindo Araújo and Brazil World Rally Team's Daniel Oliveira, with the latter going off but fortunately not incurring any damage. Araújo was 13th, just over ten seconds off the pace.
The action proper will begin in the Portuguese capital of Lisbon on Thursday afternoon.
Rally Portugal Shakedown times – Top Ten:
1. Sebastien Ogier
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 3min 08.5secs
2. Sebastien Loeb
Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC 3min 08.6secs
3. Jari-Matti Latvala
Ford Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC 3min 08.8secs
4. Petter Solberg
PSWRT Citroen DS3 WRC 3min 09.2secs
5. Mads Ostberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC 3min 09.6secs
6. Mikko Hirvonen
Ford Abu Dhabi Fiesta RS WRC 3min 10.8secs
7. Henning Solberg
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC 3min 11.6secs
8. Matthew Wilson
M-Sport Stobart Ford Fiesta RS WRC 3min 14.8secs
9. Kimi Raikkonen
ICE1 Racing Citroen DS3 WRC 3min 15.1secs
10. Federico Villagra
Munchi's Ford Fiesta RS WRC 3min 15.6secs