Thierry Neuville wins the 'WRC Crash Festival' in Portugal
Thierry Neuville (Hyundai Motorsport) wins the 52nd Rally de Portugal, the sixth round of the 2018 World Rally Championship. The Belgian in the #5 Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC stayed out of troubles on the extremely tough rally, together with his navigator Nicolas Gilsoul, to score his second win of the season and the eighth WRC victory in a career.
With this win, Neuville takes the championship lead after six events ahead of the defending champion Sebastien Ogier (M-Sport Ford), who crashed out on Friday and then returned to race under the Rally2 rules. Neuville now has 119 points, 19 more then Ogier.
Despite Ogier’s not so good result, M-Sport celebrated a double podium. Elfyn Evans finished in the second place in the #2 Ford Fiesta WRC, ahead of teammate Teemu Suninen in the #3 car. For Suninen, it’s his maiden WRC podium in a career.
The Portuguese WRC round turned out to be a ‘crash festival’ or ‘demolition derby’, with many major entrants ending a rally off the road or with badly damaged cars on the road.
The rally started catastrophically for Toyota Gazoo Racing on Friday morning when Ott Tanak retired on SS2 and Jari-Matti Latvala on SS3. Then, Sebastien Ogier went into the trees on SS5. The next on the list of victims was Hayden Paddon who crashed on SS7 and blocked the road so that special stage was stopped. Andreas Mikkelsen also retired on that stage with broken power steering but he restarted on Saturday, together with Ogier and Latvala. Tanak and Paddon stayed out of rally.
Kris Meeke struggled with tyres on Friday afternoon, suffering punctures and having no spares, so he drove Porto’s two street stages without a tyre on the left-rear wheel. But, the worst for him followed on Saturday’s SS12 (Amarante) when he crashed badly into the trees, destroying his Citroen. Fortunately, roll cage saved him and co-driver Paul Nagle.
Thierry Neuville established a comfortable lead during Saturday and stayed in front until the end. Behind his back, Elfyn Evans was secure on P2 while Teemu Suninen fought for P3 against Dani Sordo. Sordo and Esapekka Lappi earned 10-second time penalties because clipping bales at roundabout during the Porto street stage, finishing in the fourth and fifth respectively.
It’s interesting that eleven drivers set the fastest times through the Rally Portugal’s twenty special stages. The fastest on the Power Stage was Lappi.
The next WRC round is the Rally Italia Sardegna on June 7-10.