WRC Portugal: Evans leads Rovanpera after brutal Friday

Toyota’s Elfyn Evans leads World Rally Championship leader Kalle Rovanpera after emerging from a brutal Friday at Rally Portugal, that resulted in retirements for Sebastien Loeb and Sebastien Ogier.

WRC Portugal: Evans leads Rovanpera after brutal Friday

Evans avoided a spate of punctures, technical issues and accidents that affected many of his rivals across the day’s surprisingly rough eight gravel stage.

The Welshman claimed four stage wins, winning the final head-to-head super special to lead Rovanpera by 13.6s, with Hyundai’s Dani Sordo third, 44.4s adrift.

Evans blitzed the first two stages to grab the lead before losing the advantage to M-Sport’s Sebastien Loeb, after the Frenchman’s victory on Stage 4 put the nine-time world champion into a 0.5s lead.

However, Loeb’s hopes of a second victory of the season, following his Monte Carlo triumph in January, came to an end, courtesy of a rare driver error on the afternoon’s first test.

The M-Sport driver, contesting only selected rounds this year, misjudged a left hander resulting in his Puma sliding into a wall, causing terminal damage to the right rear suspension, ending his his day early.

This allowed Evans to reclaim the lead which he protected despite a late charge from Rovanpera.

Rovanpera’s rise to become Evans’ nearest challenger highlighted the extent of the drama that unfolded, given the Finn faced the worst road conditions opening the road. However, the 21-year-old turned heads tie his pace in tricky conditions to win Stage 7 and 8.

Rovanpera benefited from Loeb’s retirement to sit fourth overall heading into the afternoon. That soon transformed to third when Ogier was forced to exit the rally after picking up two punctures across Stages 6 and 7.

The eight-time world champion suffered a front left failure that lost him two minutes, while the wheel was changed. But a second on the following stage spelled the end of his day having elected not to take two spares. The Frenchman will return to action on Saturday under restart rules.

Despite being second on the road, Neuville had drove smartly to sit second up until a front driveshaft broke on a road section before Stage 8.

The issue affected his front left, and although a fix allowed him to continue, he lost more than minute across the final two stages, dropping him to seventh overall, 1m46.4s adrift of Evans.

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Kalle Rovanperä, Jonne Halttunen, Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota GR Yaris Rally1

Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images

Neuville wasn’t the only Hyundai to hit trouble as Tanak picked up a pair of punctures on Stages 6 and 7 and transmission issue. The Estonian lost more than three minutes, pushing the 2019 champion from fifth to 10th overall.

Sordo in the third Hyundai was able to take advantage of the problems to claim to third by the end of the day, having made a tentative start to his first rally of the season.

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Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta was among the few to avoid incurring a puncture, but did survive a half spin in Stage 6 to come home in fourth, 49.6s behind the lead.

Gus Greensmith led M-Sport’s charge as the Brit completed the eight stages in fifth despite picking up two punctures. The last arrived at Super special head-to-head held on much smoother gravel and tarmac.

Team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet ended the day in sixth but ran as high as fourth before a wild moment where he left the road at high-speed on Stage 8.

Loubet’s fellow stable mates Craig Breen and Adrien Fourmaux reached service in eighth and ninth overall after the pair were among the puncture list. Breen was also lucky to escape hitting a bank that damaged the right rear of his Puma on Stage 8.

Rally Portugal continues on Saturday with crews set to face seven more stages.

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WRC Portugal: Punctures force Ogier into retirement
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