ELFYN EVANS CUT THIERRY NEUVILLE’S VODAFONE RALLY DE PORTUGAL LEAD AFTER AN AGGRESSIVE START TO SATURDAY MORNING’S ACTION.The Welshman, trailing the Belgian by 17.7sec overnight, conceded another second in the opening Vieira do Minho speed test. He then charged to fastest time in Cabeceiras de Basto, reclaiming almost six seconds in his Ford Fiesta to cut the deficit to 12.7sec.
“The opening stage was slippery in places and the car was sliding quite a lot. I would say the grip was less than we had in the first pass yesterday. It was a good run in the next stage. The smooth roads help, it was so difficult yesterday with the conditions we had,” he said.
Neuville was unperturbed. “I was a bit too careful with the tyres. It was quite abrasive and we need them for the next stage,” said the Hyundai i20 driver, with a wary eye on the following 37.60km Amarante, the longest stage of the event.
The stages in the Cabreira mountains, north-east of the rally base in Matosinhos, brought a quieter opening than the carnage which engulfed yesterday. A sunny morning with temperatures round 20°C prompted all the leading drivers to opt for Michelin’s soft compound rubber.
Dani Sordo remained third but the gap to Evans widened to 11.6sec. The Spaniard felt his i20 was too soft in the opener and stiffened the suspension before Cabeceiras de Basto to improve his feeling.
Teemu Suninen and Esapekka Lappi traded seconds, Lappi narrowing the gap to his fellow Finn to 9.3sec. Mads Østberg completed the top six a further 11.2sec back in a Citroën C3.
Jari-Matti Latvala, restarting after retiring yesterday with broken suspension in his Toyota Yaris, was fastest in Vieira do Minho but another returnee, Andreas Mikkelsen, wasn’t on the same pace in his i20.
“Driving wise it’s OK, but it’s lacking in power. It’s because of what happened yesterday, we had to make changes to make it last,” said the Norwegian, who retired yesterday afternoon with low engine oil pressure.
Hayden Paddon did not restart following yesterday afternoon’s accident. He was taken to hospital complaining of back pain and remained overnight for observation. He is due to be released this morning.