PHOTO: J-ML’s smiling again! (Volkswagen pic)
JARI-MATTI Latvala put a smile back on his face after a run of three pointless rounds by leading Vodafone Rally de Portugal after Friday’s opening leg.
He won the same stage in the morning and afternoon in his Volkswagen Polo R to open a 11.1sec advantage over Kris Meeke in Citroën’s DS 3. Andreas Mikkelsen was a further 4.9sec behind in another Polo R.
Australian WRC2 entrant Scott Pedder rolled his Ford Fiesta R5 in stage four, the third of the day. He and co-driver Dale Moscatt were unhurt and hoping their car would be ready to resume on Saturday morning.
Despite the crash, the current Australian champion was pleased with his pace and claimed the ninth-fastest time on SS3 in a field of almost 30 WRC2 cars.
Latvala was happy to see his luck returning in Portugal.
“After a steady start we increased the pace stage by stage and attacked more. That final stage suited me well.
“I’ve had hard times recently so it would be great to have a good event, but tomorrow will be tough,” the Finn told WRC.com.
Latvala’s low start position, the result of his disappointing season, helped him on soft, sandy roads this morning as the early starters swept away loose gravel to leave a cleaner road for those behind.
The afternoon stages were less slippery but rougher, rocks and deep ruts prompting many drivers to raise the height of their cars to protect them from damage.
Meeke was the closest challenger for the lead for much of the day, but the top spot changed hands on several occasions as Dani Sordo and Mikkelsen each led before Latvala took control.
Ott Tänak enjoyed a strong debut in the new Ford Fiesta RS to hold fourth, 1.8sec behind Mikkelsen. Sordo’s Hyundai i20 was fifth and road opener Sébastien Ogier, who suffered most from sweeping the gravel, completed the top six in his Polo R.
Mads Østberg joined Sordo, Latvala, Mikkelsen and Ogier as a stage winner in his DS3 and was seventh, 5.4sec behind Ogier. Hayden Paddon, Thierry Neuville and Robert Kubica completed the top 10.
Soft compound tyres were the option of virtually all the frontrunners in the morning – except Neuville, who opted for hard rubber in the hope of benefiting from having more soft tyres left later in the event.
Elfyn Evans was sidelined with a fly-by-wire throttle problem in his Fiesta RS while Lorenzo Bertelli completed all the stages in his similar car, but could not drive the final liaison section after two punctures left him with no more spare wheels.
The afternoon’s opening stage was cancelled due to fires in the hills near the Spanish border.
The rally restarts from Matasinhos, near Porto, at 07.30 on Saturday. Drivers face two identical loops of three stages in the Serra do Marão mountains, near Amarante, covering 165.08km.
The length of the sections and temperatures forecast to hit 25˚C mean tyre choice will play a crucial role.
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