PHOTO: WRC glamour-boys Thierry Neuville and Andreas Mikkelsen sign autographs before the start of Rally Portugal (Volkswagen photo).
WORLD Champions Volkswagen have dominated the start of Vodafone Rally de Portugal, with Sebastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Andreas Mikkelsen finishing 1-2-3 in on a Super Special Stage in Lisbon.
Ogier was fastest by 1.3sec in a Polo R through the 3.27km test on cobbles and asphalt at Praco do Imperio from birthday boy Latvala (29 on Thursday), with Mikkelsen a further 0.9sec back.
“It’s a good start, but the real stuff starts tomorrow,” Ogier said.
“We’re here to win the rally, but it won’t be easy.”
Huge crowds packed the super special stage, in the shadow of the Jerónimos Monastery UNESCO World Heritage Site, where competitors spent several hours on Thursday afternoon following a ceremonial start at Estoril’s Casino Gardens.
Thierry Neuville was best of the rest in fourth in his Hyundai i20, 2.9sec behind Ogier. Kris Meeke and Mikko Hirvonen completed the top six.
All the top drivers opted for soft-compound tyres except Hyundai’s Dani Sordo. The Spaniard was happy to cede a few seconds to save his allocation of soft rubber in case the past days’ cool and wet weather continued into the rally.
Competitors made the 130km journey back from Lisbon to the service park and parc ferme in Faro on Thursday night. Friday’s leg starts at 9am for two identical loops of six stages covering 136.38km in hills north-west of Faro.
Earlier, the ceremonial start ceremony saw now-world champion Sebastien Ogier repay a long-standing debt.
At Rally Portugal 2008, Ogier approached the rally organisers to take part in the recce, in order to check out the special stages for future visits. The recce fee was 1000 Euros, but organisers waived it without the condition he would have to pay if he became world champion.
With the title his after a stunning 2013 season, Ogier kept his promise by paying the fee in the form of a donation to the voluntary fire service in Estoril.