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WRC Rally de Portugal: Meeke triples lead on dramatic second loop

Kris Meeke completes day one of Rallye de Portugal with his lead over Sebastien Ogier up to 31.9secs; Dani Sordo remains third; Hayden Paddon rolls in SS5 and his car catches fire; Ott Tanak goes off at the same spot; Henning Solberg goes off in SS7...
CLICK HERE for Rally de Portugal leaderboard after SS9


Britain's Kris Meeke has tripled his lead on Rally de Portugal following a dramatic second loop on Friday afternoon.

Meeke won two of the three this morning in his Citroen DS 3 WRC to return to the mid-day service with an 11.5 second advantage over Volkswagen's Sebastien Ogier. The Briton also won SS6 and SS7 this afternoon, and was later awarded the winning time for SS5 after the test was stopped following the dramatic exits of Hayden Paddon and Ott Tanak.

Paddon was first out, rolling his Hyundai i20 WRC 11.90 km in. The Kiwi and co-driver John Kennard both escaped unhurt, but the car was completely burnt out after the bushes around it caught fire.

Tanak also went off at exactly the same spot a few minutes later, and while his car also caught fire, he was able to extinguish it with a hose [see embedded Video below].



With Meeke then taking it steady this evening through the 1.85 km Porto Street Stage super special, which competitors tackled twice, Ogier was able to eat back a few seconds, although the Ulsterman remains very much in control. Indeed he will now go into the second leg on Saturday 31.9 seconds ahead.

“I'm very pleased at the end of this day, we were quick from start to finish,” Meeke said. “Perhaps spending the last few months away from the rallies has just whetted my appetite!

“We made the right call on tyre choice for the afternoon loop. After SS5 was cancelled, we just drove slowly through the stage and there was a really nasty section where Hayden went off. Fortunately, I had set a good time this morning and the time awarded by the stewards didn't penalise me.

“The flip side of our strategy was being a little bit less comfortable with the hard tyres on the street stages in Porto, but it was still the best decision for the loop overall. I wasn't expecting to finish the day with such a big lead. Having said that, it's only Friday and there's still a long way to go! I'm going to keep driving the same way and we'll see where we are come Sunday…”

“It's been really tough,” added Ogier, who was first on the road. “It was hard for me to be fast. This morning we could keep a good pace, but now [this afternoon] it has been very difficult. This stage [SS7] was really bad. The line wasn't good. But a lot of guys have made mistakes so we're lucky to be here.”

Dani Sordo completes the top-three in his Hyundai, 5.4secs off second. The Spaniard had moved ahead of Ogier until a front-left puncture in SS7 dropped him back behind the Frenchman.

“It has been a pretty good day in general, and I am pleased we have been able to show good pace,” Sordo said. “We had a competitive morning loop; we saved the tyres in the opening stage but then had a good run up to lunchtime service. The car felt great.

“We had an equally strong start to the afternoon loop. My stage times were quick and we were looking OK, but we picked up a front-left puncture during SS7, which lost us some time. We don't know exactly where it happened but the tyre started to deflate by the end of the stage. That moved us back to third overall but it's [still] been a positive start to the rally. The car has been behaving very well and when you have a good car, you have the confidence to push.”

Behind, Volkswagen Motorsport II pilot Andreas Mikkelsen kept it clean and now holds fourth, albeit 55.5secs off the lead and 16.5secs off the rostrum.

“It's been alright,” said the Norwegian. “I've improved my driving a bit, I think, and the car was better this afternoon. We have to up the pace a bit, but I'm happy [generally] with the performance. I'm attacking the corners a bit more now.”

Thierry Neuville is next up in fifth, and after a poor first stage today, finished the leg on a positive by winning both runs through the Porto Street super special.

“We can be relatively satisfied with our performance and position. It was definitely a nice way to end Friday with two fastest times on the Porto Street Stage in front of so many fans,” said the Belgian.

“We got off an overly cautious start this morning. I wanted to take it easy in the opening stage but I had no idea we were losing so much time with that approach. I couldn't believe it when I saw it was 30 seconds. From there, we picked up the pace and built some confidence. There was room for improvement but we were able to claw back some positions.

“It was a disrupted afternoon and we had an issue in SS7 with the front-left tyre. It was leaking air at the start of the stage and it fully deflated in the final five kilometres. That lost us some time but we made it through and can rebuild tomorrow from fifth - and who knows what could happen. We'll keep pushing.”

Further back, Meeke's team-mate Stephane Lefebvre holds sixth, with M-Sport duo Mads Ostberg and Eric Camilli seventh and eighth, split by just 3.7 seconds.

“We've definitely had more pace this afternoon and the gearbox has been working well which gave us the confidence that we needed to push on,” Ostberg said. “There was a lot more grip which was a big help and I really enjoyed it. I could push a lot more and now we just need to try and regain that confidence so that we can get back up to the pace we know we have.

“It's difficult to say what we will be able to do tomorrow, but we certainly want to continue this progress. Now that Paddon is gone, we will be second on the road again and the guys we are fighting will be much further back. We'll have to wait and see what happens, but I'll push hard and keep fighting.”

Jari-Matti Latvala ended the leg in ninth, struggling with set-up problems this morning and then losing the power steering this afternoon after he hit a hole mid-way through SS5.

“I'm really, really pleased that we're here,” said Latvala, who is now almost 2 minutes off eighth and over 3.5 minutes off the lead. “With no power steering you are fighting with the car and there is no chance to do the times like the fastest boys. I had to back off - all the bumps were absolutely the worst. We lost the alternator belt [too], but we managed to fix that.”

In WRC2, Skoda's Pontus Tidemand has dominated the principal support class, winning all three stages this morning and then taking two more this afternoon. He now lies 10th overall – and 35.5secs up on Nicolas Fuchs. Elfyn Evans is third, 17.5secs further back, losing time with a 'lack of kick' from his Fiesta R5.

In terms of retirements, in addition to Paddon and Tanak, Kevin Abbring and Henning Solberg also went out. Abbring was forced to retire in SS3 with a broken steering arm, while Solberg went off the road in SS7 and was unable to rejoin.

Rally de Portugal now continues on Saturday, with two loops of three stages on the bill and a total competitive distance of 165.28 kilometres – the longest day of the event. SS10, the 18.66 km Baiao 1 test, is due to start on Saturday at 09.42 hours.


CLICK HERE for Rally de Portugal leaderboard after SS9
by Rob Wilkins



Related Pictures

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Kris Meeke (BR) Paul Nagle (GBR), Citroen DS3 WRC, Abu Dhabi Total WRT

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