WRC Thierry Neuville extends his lead in Portugal after 12 stages
For immediate release
Saturday, May 19th, 2018
THIERRY NEUVILLE EXTENDS HIS LEAD AFTER 12 STAGES
MATOSINHOS (PORTUGAL): Belgium’s Thierry Neuville extended his lead to 29.9 seconds after a further loop of three gravel stages of the 52nd Vodafone Rally of Portugal through the Cabreira mountains on Saturday morning.
The Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC driver knows that victory will give him the outright lead in the Drivers’ Championship standings, but M-Sport Ford World Rally Team’s Elfyn Evans and Neuville’s team-mate Dani Sordo were also pushing hard over the morning loop to consolidate their second and third positions. A mere five seconds separated the duo after SS12.
A fierce battle was also developing between the young flying Finns, Esapeka Lappi and Teemu Suninen, for fourth position. The latter, driving a Ford Fiesta WRC, held an advantage of 4.8 seconds on the return to Exponor for the lunchtime service stop.
The Citroën Total Abu World Rally Team’s Kris Meeke was running strongly until his C3 WRC snapped sideways 31km into the Amarante stage and launched itself down the banking and into the trees. Both crew members emerged from the damaged car unscathed.
Of the 14 World Rally Car drivers, only Ott Tänak and Hayden Paddon failed to start Saturday’s stages to the east of Porto. Revised notional stage times had pushed Suninen and Mads Østberg up to fourth and sixth overall at the restart.
Road sweeping duties in the opening 17.5km stage fell to Breen and the Irishman was followed into the special by Meeke, Østberg and Lappi. Breen dropped 11.1 seconds to Meeke in his cleaning role as the surface continued to improve but Neuville set the second fastest time and beat his closest rivals to extend his lead over Evans to 18.6 seconds.
Both Andreas Mikkelsen and Sébastien Ogier returned under Rally 2, although the Norwegian admitted that his i20 was down on power, Ogier suggested that his motivation was not quite there and that left the door open for a determined Jari-Matti Latvala (also Rally 2) to set the quickest time. A costly left-rear puncture for Gus Greensmith gifted the WRC 2 lead to Stéphane Lefebvre with Lukasz Pienazek moving into second.
The 22.22km of the Cabeceiras de Basto stage followed soon afterwards and the three Citroëns continued their road sweeping duties.
Suninen continued to defend his fourth position and Evans consolidated second place with the fastest time. The fourth quickest run for a cautious Neuville saw the Belgian’s advantage over Evans reduced to 12.7 seconds heading to the monster Amarante stage.
Lefebvre extended his WRC 2 advantage over Pienazek to 35.9 seconds and Tidemand also moved in front of Greensmith and into third place when the Mancunian dropped another 59 seconds.
A clean run through the longest special of the rally would be crucial for the front-runners in all categories. Breen struggled with road-sweeping duties, but a flying Meeke launched the C3 WRC into the trees after 31km of the stage and into retirement.
Lappi reduced Suninen’s hold on fourth to 4.8 seconds, as Neuville, Evans and Sordo headed to service in the podium places that they had started out this morning.
Sordo’s performance in the last stage reduced Evans’s hold on second place to just five seconds, but Neuville delivered a crushing pace in the final kilometres to extend his lead in stunning fashion with the fastest time.
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