OTT Tänak led a clean sweep of the podium positions for Toyota Gazoo racing after a tough opening leg of Vodafone Rally de Portugal.
PHOTO: Spectacular! Ott Tänak blasts his Toyota Yaris out of a dusty corner on Vodafone Rally de Portugal (Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)
Don’t miss Vodafone Rally de Portugal 1-hour highlights on 10 BOLD and tenplay.com.au: 3pm (AEST) Saturday 8 June
He was one of the few drivers to avoid trouble in hot and dusty conditions on Friday to build a 17.3sec advantage in a Yaris World Rally Car over Jari-Matti Latvala. Kris Meeke completed Toyota’s treble a further 5.5sec back.
This seventh round of the FIA World Rally Championship returned to famous roads near Coimbra for the first time since 2001. Hanging dust prompted organisers to extend start intervals to four minutes to avoid visibility problems.
Second in the start order threatened to hamper Tänak on narrow, twisty roads as he swept away loose gravel to leave a cleaner surface for those behind, but he made light of the issue.
He was second initially before gaining a lead he did not relinquish. Two fastest times placed him 6.9sec clear at the midpoint and he doubled that in the afternoon.
“We said before the rally this was a critical day to survive in this event and ensure a better start position for tomorrow. We managed it and now we need to do the rest of the job,” the Estonian said.
Latvala remained hot on his heels until he stalled at a penultimate stage hairpin. The Finn stayed ahead of Meeke, who survived a broken intercom, which required co-driver Seb Marshall to use hand signals to explain their pace notes.
Meeke briefly lost his grip on third to Teemu Suninen, but the Finn fell to sixth when brake failure forced him to zig-zag his Ford Fiesta through the penultimate stage to slow down.
Title rivals Thierry Neuville, driving a Hyundai i20, and Sébastien Ogier, in a Citroën C3, filled the next two places, blanketed by 1.6sec. Both lost time through cleaning, but profited from others’ troubles to climb the order. Neuville dropped 10sec with a stall.
Behind Suninen, M-Sport Ford teammate Gus Greensmith was seventh on his World Rally Car debut, despite twice stalling his engine.
Esapekka Lappi held eighth. The Finn lost a minute with a puncture and further time when delayed behind a troubled Elfyn Evans – time that was later credited to him. WRC 2 leader Ole Christian Veiby and WRC 2 Pro leader Jan Kopecký completed the leaderboard.
Evans dropped four minutes when his Fiesta stopped with an electrical problem in the throttle while, Neuville apart, the day was a disaster for Hyundai.
Dani Sordo led for the first two stages but both he and teammate Sébastien Loeb spluttered through the third with fuel pressure problems in their i20s. Sordo dropped nearly 19min and Loeb yielded almost 16min.
Saturday’s toughest leg contains more than half the rally’s competitive distance. Crews face a double run over three tests, the opening two through the demanding Cabreira Mountains. They add up to 160.70km.
Outright standings after Friday:
1 Tänak / Järveoja (Toyota Yaris WRC) 1:03:26.7
2 Latvala / Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +17.3
3 Meeke / Marshall (Toyota Yaris WRC) +22.8
4 Neuville / Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 WRC) +24.2
5 Ogier / Ingrassia (Citroën C3 WRC) +25.8
6 Suninen / Salminen (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:15.7
7 Greensmith / Edmondson (Ford Fiesta WRC) +1:22.1
8 Lappi / Ferm (Citroën C3 WRC) +1:23.7
9 Veiby / Andersson (VW Polo R5) +3:45.2
10 Kopecky / Dresler (Skoda Fabia R5) +3:49.3