Ford's Jari-Matti Latvala leads Rally de Portugal at the end of day one, and it was a dramatic opener, with championship leader, Sebastien Loeb crashing out in SS3.

After the Lisbon super special this afternoon, the action got underway 'proper' this evening with three night tests, and in SS2 and SS3, Ford's decision to run last in the order paid off, with Petter Solberg quickest in Gomes Aires and Latvala fastest in Santa Clara.

Going into SS4, Latvala led by 0.5 seconds, with Mikko Hirvonen down in third, 10.4 seconds adrift. However, rain in Ourique worked to the advantage of those running higher up the order, with Hirvonen, who opted to run first on the road, re-gaining just over 5 seconds as he tackled the test in the dry. Ott Tanak also made the most of dry conditions, to claim his second WRC stage win, although this time it was on a 'real' test (rather than the short Hagfors Sprint he was quickest on in Sweden back in February). Loeb though couldn't benefit from the downpour, as he had gone off in the previous stage heavily damaging his Citroen DS3 WRC. He will not be able to continue [see separate story - HERE].

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Consequently, Latvala returns to service at the Algarve Stadium 2.6 seconds up on Solberg, with Hirvonen just 2.4 seconds further back in third.

"We didn't expect the rain to be as strong as it was," Latvala admitted. "When it was light it wasn't a problem, but when it became heavier the roads turned muddy. The first 4km [in SS4] were slippery and a couple of times I slide wide. Luckily it became drier later on, the grip improved and I found the confidence to push again.

"I was worried about dust hanging in the air but the organisers promised there wouldn't be a problem, and they were right. We spent a lot of time analysing our start position. It was a hard choice but our research paid off and we made the right decision to start down the order. Tomorrow I need to stay calm and be sensible and clever, because there are still 400km and three days to go," he added.

Behind, Tanak is 10.7 seconds off the final podium place in his M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC, followed by Citroen Junior WRT man Thierry Neuville.

Mads Ostberg completes the top six, despite losing time with a puncture in SS3 and being slowed by rain in SS4.

Next up is Evgeny Novikov, 9.6 seconds off Ostberg, and 12.1 seconds up on Jari Ketomaa. Haydon Paddon, who leads the SWRC, and Dennis Kuipers round out the top ten with Patrik Sandell, Nasser Al-Attiyah, Craig Breen, Sebastien Ogier and Peter van Merksteijn Jr in positions 11 through to 15.

In terms of retirements, in addition to Loeb, Dani Sordo was the only other notable casualty. Sordo completed SS1 with only one light working on his Prodrive-run MINI John Cooper Works WRC car and then failed to start SS2. Fellow MINI man Armindo Araujo also hit trouble, going off in SS1 and losing time when he got stuck in a ditch. He was able to continue, but lost over 5 minutes.

Rally de Portugal now continues tomorrow [Friday] and includes two loops of three stages. SS5, the 25.01 kilometre Tavira 1 test, is due to start just after mid-day at 12.01 hours local time.

Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 4 (Top 10):

1. Jari-Matti Latvala Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC 25mins 04.6secs M
2. Petter Solberg Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 02.6secs M
3. Mikko Hirvonen Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 05.0secs M
4. Ott Tanak M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 15.7secs M
5. Thierry Neuville Citroen Junior WRT DS3 WRC +00mins 34.0secs M
6. Mads Ostberg Adapta WRT Fiesta RS WRC +00mins 53.3secs M
7. Evgeny Novikov M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 02.9secs M
8. Jari Ketomaa Ford Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 15.0secs
9. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 +01mins 39.6secs S
10. Dennis Kuipers M-Sport Ford WRT Fiesta RS WRC +01mins 47.1secs


11. Patrik Sandell Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC +01mins 54.2secs
12. Nasser Al-Attiyah Qatar WRT Citroen DS3 WRC +01mins 57.0secs M
13. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +02mins 04.2secs S
14. Sebastien Ogier VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 +02mins 09.7secs
15. Peter van Merksteijn Jr van Merksteijn Motorsport Citroen DS3 WRC +02mins 31.6secs
16. Daniel Oliveira Brazil WRT Ford Fiesta RS WRC +02mins 46.2secs M
18. Martin Prokop Czech Ford National Team Fiesta RS WRC +04mins 23.0secs
32. Armindo Araujo WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC +06mins 14.5secs

SWRC standings after Stage 4 - Top 3:

1. Hayden Paddon Skoda Fabia S2000 26mins 44.2secs S
2. Craig Breen Ford Fiesta S2000 +00mins 24.6secs S
3. Yazeed Al-Rajhi Ford Fiesta RCC +01mins 18.1secs S

Notable retirements:

DNS. Paulo Nobre WRC MINI Team Portugal John Cooper Works WRC Did not start - crashed in Qualifying stage
DNS. Kevin Abbring VW Motorsport Skoda Fabia S2000 Did not start - crashed in shakedown
SS2. Dani Sordo Prodrive WRC Team MINI John Cooper Works WRC Did not start SS2
SS3. Sebastien Loeb Citroen Total WRT DS3 WRC Went off the road M

all times unofficial