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OTT Tänak charged straight to the lead in Vodafone Rally de Portugal with fastest time in Thursday night’s opening stage at Lousada rallycross circuit.

PHOTO: Ott Tänak tales the early lead in Vodafone Rally de Portugal in front of a huge crowd at Lousada rallycross track (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Media pic)

In front of 30,000 fans, Tänak defeated Andreas Mikkelsen in a head-to-head heat around a mixed-surface track to dethrone early leader Teemu Suninen from the top of the leaderboard.

Tänak’s Toyota Yaris was 0.4sec quicker around the sweeping 3.36km stage than the Finn and M-Sport Ford Fiesta teammate Sébastien Ogier, who matched Suninen’s time.

In their respective heats Suninen outpaced Hayden Paddon, returning after missing the past three WRC rounds, while Ogier was more than a second quicker than Rally Australia winner Thierry Neuville. Paddon eventually finished 11th.

Although Tänak dictated the previous round in Argentina, he indicated Thursday night’s early good form at Lousada did not mean a repeat was likely on this weekend’s sixth round of the season.

“It will be tough to dominate here. We know how loose the roads will be tomorrow and there will be a lot more cleaning than in Argentina. It will be key tomorrow to get a good position so we can fight hard on Saturday,” said the Estonian, who dominated in South America in a way nobody had managed before in new-era World Rally Cars and now is third in the drivers’ standings after Ogier and Neuville.

Citroën C3 pilot Kris Meeke and Mikkelsen, driving a Hyundai i20, were fourth, a second behind the tying Ford pair. Neuville completed the top six.

Shakedown winner Jari-Matti Latvala dropped almost four seconds after stalling his Yaris in a hairpin and ended up 13th.

“Under braking the engine cut completely. There’s something strange happening with the engine and we need to investigate that. It doesn’t worry me, but it annoys me,” the Finn said.

Friday’s first full day is based close to the Spanish border. Two identical loops of three stages are split by service in Matosinhos, before the leg ends with two short street tests in central Porto. The eight stages cover 148.66km.

Outright standings after Thursday:

1 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 2m34.3s
2 Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +0.4s
= Sebastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) +0.4s
4 Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (Citroen C3 WRC) +1.4s
= Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jaeger (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1.4s
6 Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1.5s
7 Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1.6s
= Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1.6s
9 Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +1.7s
10 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1.8s

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Chris Nixon

Chris Nixon is Media Manager for Kennards Hire Rally Australia.

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