WRC Ott Tanak leads after day one of the Rally of Portugal
For immediate release
Friday, May 21st, 2021
OTT TÄNAK LEADS AFTER DAY ONE IN PORTUGAL
MATOSINHOS (PORTUGAL): Estonia’s Ott Tänak maintained his composure and erred on the side of caution when necessary to hold a lead of six seconds after eight special stages of the 54th Vodafone Rally of Portugal on Friday.
The three Hyundai i20 Coupés looked set to dominate the first leg. Dani Sordo led the rally from the end of stage two to the start of the seventh special, but tyre wear and a costly stall were expensive for the Spaniard and he slipped behind Tänak and Toyota’s Elfyn Evans before the final stage at Lousada.
Sordo erred on the side of caution on the final special as well and finished the leg nine seconds off the lead in third place.
The i20s had been the class of the field during the first loop, but Thierry Neuville was over ambitious with a pace note in stage seven, slid wide, clouted a tree stump and lost over three and a half minutes coaxing the car to the stage finish. The crew worked in vain on the car on the road section, but had already plummeted from third to ninth when they were forced to retire from the day’s action.
Evans, Kalle Rovanperä and Takamoto Katsuta were locked in their own mini battle for fourth, fifth and sixth places for much of the day in a trio of Toyotas. They traded times until Evans made his move and Katsuta staked his climb on fourth place at the night halt. Rovanperä finished the day in sixth.
Starting first on the road was a distinct disadvantage for defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier and he ceded time to his rivals throughout the day, despite winning the seventh stage. The Frenchman did manage to pass Adrien Fourmaux on the second loop of stages and moved up to sixth after Neuville’s issues and he displaced Rovanperä in SS7. But the fifth-placed Toyota Yaris driver still has his work cut out to make this trip to northern Portugal a fruitful one for his title aspirations.
Gus Greensmith showed impressive pace on three stages in particular in his M-Sport Ford Fiesta, but a time-consuming rear puncture ruined the Briton’s progress and he reached the night halt in seventh after passing Fourmaux when the Frenchman also collected a flat tyre.
A puncture ruined Mads Østberg’s ambitions in WRC2 as well and the Norwegian could only watch frustratingly as the flying Finns, Esapekka Lappi and Teemu Suninen, battled it out with Nikolay Gryazin for supremacy. The latter was the revelation on the opening day but his Movisport team-mate Lappi held on to take a 2.2-second lead into the night halt in his Volkswagen Polo GTi and held ninth overall. Suninen finished the day a further 7.6 seconds behind.
Yohan Rossel (Citroën) held a slender 3.5-second advantage over Kajetan Kajetanowicz (Škoda) in WRC3 after eight stages. Nicolas Ciamin (Citroën) and Chris Ingram (Škoda) were third and fourth.
Finland’s Sami Pajari held a lead of 22.3 seconds over Czech driver Martin Koči in the JWRC category after seven stages. Latvia’s Martin Sesks was third, but the Ford Fiesta series-leading Jon Armstrong dropped over four minutes and lost his early advantage in stage six.
Friday – as it happened
The rally headquarters in Matosinhos was shrouded in cloud and light drizzle as the leading crews headed out of Coimbra and on to a road section to the first 12.35km Lousã stage. Missing from that line-up was Norwegian WRC2 driver Ole-Christian Veiby – he tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday and was forced to withdraw from the rally and go into isolation.
Ogier tried to take advantage of cooler and overcast conditions and some damp patches under overhanging trees to post the target time of 9min 09.8sec but it was to no avail and he ceded 4.6 seconds to Neuville and 5.1 seconds to stage winner Tänak, despite the Estonian losing a few seconds with a half-spin and a stall. Hyundai duly claimed the top three positions after the stage.
Greensmith also set an impressive time in his M-Sport Ford and finished the stage in fourth. “The work we did on the test seems to have brought the car alive for me,” said the Briton. Gryazin headed Mads Østberg and Suninen in WRC2 and Emil Lindholm moved in front of Ciamin in WRC3.
The 19.51km of the nearby Góis stage was next on the agenda. Ogier continued to act as road sweeper on the drier surface and carded a time of 13min 10.0sec. But the Frenchman dropped another 5.5 seconds to Neuville and an ominous 7.4 to a flying Tänak.
Katsuta enjoyed a good run to beat all three of his Toyota team-mates but road position played into Sordo’s hands and the Spaniard stormed through to take the stage win in a time of 12min 59sec and an outright lead of 3.2 seconds from Tänak.
The result marked a first ever WRC stage win for Sordo’s new co-driver Borja Rozada and a second Hyundai 1-2-3 of the morning. Pierre-Louis Loubet left the road after 14.1km, as Suninen moved to the top of the WRC2 standings from Lappi and Gryazin.
A run through the 18.82km of the famous Arganil special completed the opening loop. Dry conditions prevailed and a frustrated Ogier stopped the clocks in 12min 09.7sec and continued to haemorrhage time to his rivals. Neuville beat the World Champion by 10.9 to increase the gap to 21 seconds.
Tänak pipped the Belgian by nine-tenths of a second, as Fourmaux tied with Evans and Sordo continued his flying pace to extend his lead over Tänak after the loop to 6.7 seconds. Greensmith dropped 51.2 seconds to the stage winner after sustaining a rear-left puncture and panel damage and plummeted down the leader board to ninth after a useful start. Hyundai again claimed the top three stage times.
WRC2 title contender Østberg stopped for 90 seconds after 4.4km of the stage to change a puncture and his delay also hampered Suninen, who lost time in the dust behind the Norwegian. Lappi duly set the fastest time in WRC2 to lead Gryazin by 2.7 seconds after the morning’s loop.
Citroën Spain’s Jan Solans headed Lindholm, Chris Ingram and Kajetanowicz in WRC3 and series leader Jon Armstrong held the early JWRC advantage over William Creighton.
Ogier needed to stem the tide on the re-run of Lousã. He had dropped 31 seconds to Sordo on the morning’s loop and was in trouble of seeing his chances fading before his eyes. The Frenchman shaved three seconds off his opening run but still dropped 2.2 to Neuville.
Tänak saw his advantage over the Belgian trimmed to 2.4 seconds, as Rovanperä benefited from changes to his Toyota’s settings to record a stage-winning time of 9min 02.6sec. Greensmith impressed with the second fastest run, as he edges ever closer to a first ever WRC stage win. Sordo was third and managed to extend his outright lead to 7.6 seconds.
Gryazin was fastest again in WRC2 and moved in front of Lappi to lead by 0.7 seconds. Suninen retained third.
Ogier beat his morning time by two seconds on the repeat pass through Góis, pipped Evans and Tänak (puncture) but still dropped three more seconds to Neuville. The Frenchman’s consolation was being able to move ahead of Fourmaux and into seventh.
An impressive stage time enabled Katsuta to displace Evans and snatch fourth and the Welshman found himself under even more pressure from a pursuing Rovanperä. Sordo claimed his third stage win of the day and extended his outright lead to 10.6 seconds.
Suninen beat Lappi by 3.1 seconds in the eye of the WRC2 storm to keep up the pressure on his fellow countryman, although Lappi actually regained the outright category advantage from Gryazin. Solans left the road and lost his chance of winning WRC3 and Creighton was also sidelined from the JWRC contest.
The second pass through the legendary Arganil was Ogier’s last chance to claw back some time over a worn track surface before he again faced the task of cleaning the road in the new Mortágua test. Low-lying cloud and gloomy conditions prevailed as the seven-time World Champion shaved 10.4 seconds off his morning’s time.
Neuville was still 6.6 seconds faster than the Frenchman and gained another second on a frustrated Evans. “It’s not easy out there,” said the Welshman. “It’s not fitting like a glove, just at the moment. It’s not giving the ultimate confidence.”
Tänak set the fastest time and reduced Neuville’s hold on second place to 1.1 seconds, Rovanperä complained of tyre issues and Katsuta slipped behind Evans again and settled back into fifth. Sordo continued to take advantage of his road position, despite tyre wear on two soft compound Pirellis, but saw his lead reduced to 8.2 seconds after recording the fourth quickest time.
Lappi opened up the gap on Suninen to 7.7 seconds in the WRC2 tussle, but Gryazin was again quickest and reduced the Finn’s lead to just 1.8 seconds. Rossel headed Kajetanowicz by 6.2 seconds in WRC3.
The 18.16km of the fast and flowing Mortágua (SS7) was a completely new addition to the 2021 edition of the Rally of Portugal, although neighbouring terrain had been used before 2001.
Ogier was forced to sweep the surface and carded a time of 11min 42.7sec but Neuville slid wide on a fast right-hander, clouted a tree stump and came to rest with the car on its side. The Belgian managed to turn the car round and limped through the stage with the loss of around three and a half minutes and the crew then worked on the damaged Hyundai on the road section after the special.
“I had a pace note that was too fast,” said the Belgian. “When I saw the corner and the pace notes it did not work out. A tree stump put us on its side. We thought the car was not damaged. We are going to try and repair.”
Evans lost 37 seconds as a result of the dust from Neuville’s incident and would wait for a notional time from rally officials, but tyre wear cost both Tänak and Rovanperä crucial seconds. Fourmaux survived a spin, a rear right puncture, the loss of around 50 seconds and slipped behind Greensmith and into eighth.
Rally leader Sordo stalled and continued to suffer tyre wear. The vital seconds lost handed a three-second advantage to Tänak heading to the final test of the day. Ogier was the main beneficiary of all the drama and the Frenchman actually claimed the stage win and moved up the rankings to fourth, pending the decision on Evans’s time loss.
Gryazin was again fastest in WRC2 and reduced Lappi’s lead to 1.7 seconds and Kajetanowicz whittled Rossel’s WRC3 lead down to 4.2 seconds after Lindholm was sidelined before the stage.
Rally officials handed Evans the same time as Ogier for SS7 and the Welshman duly climbed to second overall at the expense of Sordo, with Katsuta in fourth and Ogier in fifth. Neuville’s frantic repair work was to no avail and he headed into Rally2 with time penalties.
A 163km road section brought crews to the final test of the day – a televised 3.36km blast around the Lousada rallycross circuit. Crews tackled the special in pairs at five-minute intervals with the leading WRC2 crews going first.
Lappi and Rossel confirmed their overnight leads in WRC2 and WRC3, as Tänak set out to defend his 2.7-second lead over Evans in the general classification. He was paired against his Welsh rival in front of the Lousada crowd and the fastest time gave the Estonian a six-second overnight lead.
Evans confirmed second place after Sordo erred on the side of caution to conserve what little rubber he had left on his tyres. Katsuta and Ogier rounded off the top five, with the World Champion finishing the day just 24 seconds off the lead.
Competitors tackle seven special stages on leg two, which is the longest and most demanding day of the event and features tracks with the most feared surfaces to the north-east of Porto.
The 20.64km of Vieira da Minho gets proceedings underway at 08.08hrs and precedes a pass through the daunting Cabeceiras de Basto (22.37km) special from 09.08hrs. If that isn’t challenging enough, teams face Amarante (37.92km) – the longest special of the event – from 10.24hrs before a much-needed return to service at Exponor. All three specials are unchanged from 2019.
The three are repeated in the afternoon at 14.38hrs, 15.38hrs and 16.54hrs and the day’s action then concludes with a short new spectator stage – the televised 3.30km of Porto–Foz from 19.03hrs.
2021 Vodafone Rally of Portugal – positions after SS8:
1. Ott Tänak (EST)/Martin Järveoja (EST) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC 1hr 22min 35.0sec
2. Elfyn Evans (GBR)/Scott Martin (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC 1hr 22min 41.0sec
3. Dani Sordo (ESP)/Borja Rozada (ESP) Hyundai i20 Coupé WRC 1hr 22min 44.0sec
4. Takamoto Katsuta (JPN)/Daniel Barritt (GBR) Toyota Yaris WRC 1hr 22min 50.4sec
5. Sébastien Ogier (FRA)/Julien Ingrassia (FRA) Toyota Yaris WRC 1hr 22min 59.0sec
6. Kalle Rovanperä (FIN)/Jonne Halttunen (FIN) Toyota Yaris WRC 1hr 23min 03.9sec
7. Gus Greensmith (GBR)/Chris Patterson (GBR) Ford Fiesta WRC 1hr 23min 37.3sec
8. Adrien Fourmaux (FRA)/Renaud Jamoul (FRA) Ford Fiesta WRC 1hr 24min 08.5sec
9. Esapekka Lappi (FIN)Janne Ferm (FIN) Volkswagen Polo GTi (WRC2) 1hr 26min 09.9sec
10. Nikolay Gryazin (RAF)/Konstantin Alexsandrov (RAF) Volkswagen Polo GTi (WRC2) 1hr 26min 12.1sec
11. Teemu Suninen (FIN)/Mikko Markkula (FIN) Ford Fiesta MkII (WRC2) 1hr 26min 37.5sec
For further media information:
Miguel Fonseca, National Rally Press Officer, email: firstname.lastname@example.org and Lluisa Torras, International Media Relations, email: email@example.com, Mobile: +34 629 924073.