Norway’s Mads Ostberg and Belgium’s Thierry Neuville could not be separated over the opening 3.36-kilometre stage of Rally Portugal, setting identical times of 2:36.6 seconds.
For both, it was a continuation of the impressive form that they showed at the last event in Argentina, where Ford driver Ostberg was among the front-runners before Hyundai’s Neuville ultimately came through to take his second win of the season.
Both looked spectacular in their respective heats on the Lousada stage, with the event’s trademark large crowds creating an incredible atmosphere.
New Zealand’s Hayden Paddon was just 0.1s behind in his Hyundai, while the other driver that impressed last time out, Elfyn Evans, was a further 0.3s back in his D-Mack-shod Ford Fiesta (Ostberg is also running D-Mack tyres in Portugal).
Evans was followed by this morning’s fastest driver in Shakedown, Hyundai’s Dani Sordo (+0.5s), and championship leader, M-Sport’s Sébastien Ogier (+0.7s).
Ostberg, who pipped Paddon in his heat by just a tenth of a second, was happy to have taken bragging rights in such a tight battle in front of so many fans.
“It was a close one,” he said. “I saw after one lap it was close, so I pushed more on the second [lap]. A few small mistakes, but I’m happy with the time.”
There were no notable problems for any of the WRC manufacturer drivers.
In WRC2, Andreas Mikkelsen started off in the same way he finished his last event in the Skoda Fabia R5, setting a 2:40.4 – which was 1.6s faster than his nearest rival, Teemu Suninen.
The rally proper commences tomorrow morning, with the second stage; the 26.7-kilometre Viana do Castelo. Crews will face a total of eight stages and approximately 150 competitive kilometres on Friday, culminating with two blasts through the streets of central Braga.
eom/FIA press release