WRC Rally Portugal: Thierry Neuville moves into lead amid chaos

Hyundai's Thierry Neuville leads Rally Portugal after Friday afternoon's loop, as problems for a number of World Rally Championship drivers shook up the lead order

WRC Rally Portugal: Thierry Neuville moves into lead amid chaos

Sebastien Ogier's M-Sport Ford Fiesta was the afternoon's early casualty - crashing out on the opening Viana do Castelo stage - but problems for all three of the morning's fastest drivers helped elevate Neuville up the order - as did a stage win on the loop's finale.

Kris Meeke had jumped into the lead of the rally for a second time with the fastest time on SS5, but fell to fifth on the next stage when his Citroen C3 suffered a left-rear puncture on the 11.25-mile Caminha test.

That allowed Neuville to move ahead of the Briton into fourth, and the Belgian then jumped into the lead of the event with the fastest time on the day's final full-length stage after issues for Dani Sordo, Hayden Paddon and Craig Breen.

Paddon had started the final 17.11-mile Ponte de Lima stage in the lead but crashed around 1.5 miles into it.

Hyundai later stated that Paddon's incident had blocked the stage and that while he and co-driver Seb Marshall had "exited the car on their own", Paddon had been taken to hospital for "precautionary" checks.

Midday leader Dani Sordo had been just 3.2 seconds shy of team-mate Paddon before SS7, but had complained on each of the loop's first two stages that his tyres were wrecked - Sordo was the only driver to opt for five soft compound Michelins.

He reported a cracked rim at the end of Caminha, and then completed the final stage 29.7s slower than Neuville.

Craig Breen had also moved into the top three but lost more than two minutes after stopping to change a tyre early on the Ponte de Lima stage.

Those issues mean Neuville holds a 7.3s advantage over the M-Sport Ford Fiesta of Elfyn Evans, who steered clear of trouble and set the second-fastest time on SS7.

Meeke ended the loop third, but was furious at a tyre delamination towards the end of the final stage that cost him a further 10s.

Sordo still sits fourth despite making his frustrations clear in an end-of-loop interview, while Esapekka Lappi holds fifth in the sole remaining Toyota after team-mates Ott Tanak and Jari-Matti Latvala retired in the morning.

Breen is sixth in the classification, 2m19.9s off the lead, and the last of the WRC cars to have made the end of the stage after Paddon's car blocked the way.

Andreas Mikkelsen should have been in contention at the front of the pack, but he appeared to suffer a power steering failure on SS6 and lost the best part of a minute.

Having missed his start time for SS7, Mikkelsen did then start Ponte de Lima in his Hyundai, but onboards then showed the i20 stopped with its bonnet up on the stage.

Leading positions

Pos Driver Team Car Gap
1 Thierry Neuville, N.Gilsoul Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT Hyundai 1h33m55.2s
2 Elfyn Evans, D.Barritt M-Sport Ford WRT Ford 7.3s
3 Kris Meeke, P.Nagle Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT Citroen 11.6s
4 Teemu Suninen, M.Markkula M-Sport Ford WRT Ford 18.2s
5 Dani Sordo, C.del Barrio Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT Hyundai 23.8s
6 Mads Ostberg, T.Eriksen Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT Citroen 28.4s
7 Esapekka Lappi, J.Ferm Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT Toyota 33.0s
8 Craig Breen, S.Martin Citroen Total Abu Dhabi WRT Citroen 2m19.9s

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