WRC - Evans on top after dramatic day in Portugal, Loeb and Ogier retired | Federation Internationale de l'Automobile

WRC - Evans on top after dramatic day in Portugal, Loeb and Ogier retired


2022 Vodafone Rally Portugal - Friday afternoon

2022 Rally Portugal - E. Evans/S. Martin, Toyota Gazoo Racing (Photo Paulo Maria / DPPI)

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT’s Elfyn Evans and Scott Martin avoided punctures and technical issues to edge into a lead of 13.6 seconds after a further eight demanding special stages of the 55th Vodafone Rally of Portugal on Friday.
With tyre wear causing chaos on the second loop of gravel stages during the afternoon, and both multiple World Champions Sébastien Ogier and Sébastien Loeb retiring, Evans took advantage and four stage wins enabled the Welshman to seize the initiative.
“Pretty happy to be here, quite extreme conditions,” said Evans. “Everyone trying to pick their way through. It was a bit of a lottery to be honest. You can always say you could have gone faster, but it’s difficult to know.”
His championship-leading team-mate Kalle Rovanperä had carried out road sweeping duties all day, from his position as first on the road, but the championship leader drove cleanly and preserved his tyres to give Toyota a 1-2 at the night halt.
Dani Sordo was making his first appearance of the season for the Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT and the Spaniard gradually began to climb up the leader board and avoided the on-stage carnage to snatch third place in his i20 N Rally1. Takamoto Katsuta also drove cleanly and an afternoon spin was the only blot on the Japanese’s copybook; he held fourth place in a third Toyota GR Yaris.
Gus Greensmith was the best-placed of the five Ford Puma Rally1 drivers in fifth, despite his own tyre and dust issues, while team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet rounded off the top six after a spin into a banking in the eighth stage cost him a potential top four finish. 
Hyundai’s Thierry Neuville held second overall for much of the day but the Belgian lost drive to a wheel on the road section and, despite managing his tyre wear perfectly, the drive shaft issue pushed him down to seventh at the night halt.
“We could have been in the fight for the rally,” said Neuville. “But we had this issue. We’re missing the points at the end of the year and mainly due to small technical issues. I cannot do more than this to be honest. It is frustrating.”
Craig Breen was also hovering around the podium until dust issues cost him time and a spin in the dust in Mortágua pushed the Irishman down to eighth in the third of the Pumas. Adrien Fourmaux suffered tyre issues and erred on the side of caution to hold ninth, while Ott Tänak dropped back when he was forced to stop and change a tyre during the afternoon and also suffered a transmission scare.
Ogier opted to take one spare tyre for the afternoon loop and it was a costly choice by the eight-time World Champion. He sustained two punctures in subsequent stages and was forced to pull over in Arganil 2 and retire for the day,
Loeb led after stage four, but an uncharacteristic mistake by the Frenchman on the next stage saw his day end prematurely with wheel damage after an impact with a stone wall.
Mikkelsen snatches WRC2 advantage
A shredded rear tyre ruined Hyundai Motorsport N Teemu Suninen’s day-long advantage in the FIA WRC2 category and the Finn’s hard-earned lead disappeared on stage seven. Norway’s 11th-placed Andreas Mikkelsen duly inherited the lead in a Škoda Fabia Evo and the Toksport WRT driver completed the Lousada super special with an advantage of 37 seconds, despite a misfiring down-on-power engine. PH Sport’s Yohan Rossel was classified in third in a Citroën C3.
Jean-Michel Raoux (Volkswagen Polo GTI) topped the standings in the new FIA WRC2 Masters section, the Frenchman leading fellow countrymen Frédéric Rosati (Hyundai i20 N) and Laurent Battut (Hyundai NG i20) heading to Lousada. 

Finland’s Sami Pajari and Lauri Joona were classified as the first two Juniors running in the FIA WRC3 category heading to the Lousada super special stage. Jon Armstrong had been leading the Junior category by over a minute heading to Arganil 2, but the Briton hit trouble and slipped out of contention. 

The provisional results at the end of Friday can be consulted here.