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Stage report
WRC Rally Portugal

WRC Portugal: Faultless Rovanpera heads Sordo after leaderboard shake up

World rally champion Kalle Rovanpera will head into Saturday leading Rally Portugal after an incident-filled opening day on the rough gravel stages.

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

The Toyota driver produced an head turning display despite being disadvantaged by road position to end the day leading Hyundai’s Dani Sordo by 10.8s. Rovanpera won three of the day’s eight stages to become the fourth different leader of the event to date.

A late push from Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville pushed the Belgian to third, 26.0s adrift ahead of M-Sport’s Pierre-Louis Loubet, who led after winning the first stage, but lost time due to a fire after stage 3.

Esapekka Lappi reached service in fifth, 1.3s behind Neuville, but ahead of M-Sport’s Ott Tanak, who completed the Rally1 field in sixth (+1m04.7s). Toyota duo Elfyn Evans and Takamoto Katsuta were forced to retire.

Drama struck Friday morning’s rally leader Tanak on the opening test of the afternoon, a repeat of the day’s first stage. The Estonian’s front right tyre came off the rim which cost the M-Sport driver 50.4s seconds while he powered on through the stage.

"It went on the start, I think. Under braking or something. It is quite a weak product,” said a frustrated Tanak, who dropped from the lead to seventh overall.

After struggling across the morning, Lappi surged to the top of the times to chalk up Hyundai’s first stage win of the rally. The Finn was was the fourth different stage winner in as many stages.

His team-mate Sordo emerged as his nearest rival, 3.0s shy, although the Spaniard admitted he was driving with tyre preservation in mind. Although, Tanak’s tyre problem shot Sordo to the overall rally lead.

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Dani Sordo, Candido Carrera, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

Incredibly M-Sport were able to repair Loubet's damaged Puma after a fire broke out at the end of stage three which allowed the Frenchman to attack the afternoon stages. He set the third fastest time, 0.5s quicker than Rovanpera, a time that was enough to climb to fourth overall.

Road sweeper Evans facing the worst of the road conditions while Hyundai’s Neuville also continued to struggle for outright pace. The latter however climbed to third overall courtesy of Tanak’s demise.

The rally lead changed hands for the fourth time in five stages when Rovanpera came to the fore to win stage five.

The Finn was cautious of the puncture risk thanks to the rougher road surface caused by the first pass. He managed to safely navigate through clocking a time 0.4s faster than Neuville, who was also careful on his way to setting the second fastest time.

Sordo, who took the rally lead on the previous test, was 1.2s slower than Rovanpera, handing the overall advantage to the latter by a mere 0.8s.

The Rally1 field was split by 12.9s with Evans, continuing his damage limitation programme as road sweeper.

Rovanpera managed to survive the rough second pass through Arganil to chalk up an impressive third fastest time in stage six as he extended his rally lead over Sordo to 2.9s.

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Thierry Neuville, Martijn Wydaeghe, Hyundai World Rally Team Hyundai i20 N Rally1

Photo by: Austral / Hyundai Motorsport

“The stage is in much worse condition than I was expecting, much rougher than last year,” said Rovanpera, who beat Sordo to the stage win by 2.1s. “Not so enjoyable and the tyres are taking a huge beating.”

Rovanpera’s tyre fears were unfortunately realised by Evans and Lappi. The former suffered damage to his right rear while Lappi’s right rear suffered a slow puncture in the stage. The Finn, who said he hit “one of 10 million rocks” was lucky to only lose 5.4s and maintain fifth overall.

Loubet was able to keep pace with the top two to close within 2.5s of Neuville in the fight for third overall.

The leaderboard underwent a shake up after stage seven, headlined by championship leader Evans suffering a sizeable crash. The incident wasn’t captured by the television cameras but luckily Evans and co-driver Scott Martin emerged from a roll unscathed.

The stage was won by Lappi as the Finn set a time 0.4s faster than Rovanpera, the effort catapulted the Hyundai driver from fifth to third overall.

Lappi’s team-mate Sordo lost ground on rally leader Rovanpera after overshooting a junction, and as a result dropped 11.7s in the process.

Sordo took the honours in the day’s final stage, a tarmac super special, to reduce Rovanpera’s lead to 10.8s, while Neuville climbed to third ahead of Loubet and Lappi.

In WRC2, Oliver Solberg ended the day with a sizeable 50.2s lead over championship leader Yohan Rossel, after Andreas Mikkelsen, Adrien Fourmaux, Gus Greensmith and Teemu Suninen all lost time to punctures. Returning five-time WRC rally winner Kris Meeke and co-driver James Fulton retired from the action after stage four due to a mechanical issue.

The rally continues on Saturday with a further seven stages scheduled.

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