Elfyn Evans has ended the first full day of Rally Portugal action in the lead with a win on the Lousada superspecial – but has been unable to shake off Toyota team-mate Kalle Rovanperä thus far.
Three full-length stage wins across Friday was enough to give Evans the lead for most of the day, only relinquishing the top spot briefly to Sébastien Loeb before the nine-time world champion crashed out on Lousã.
As first car on the road, Rovanperä was at risk of losing time hand over fist while sweeping the road clean, a prediction that seemed to come to pass somewhat on the Friday morning loop of stages.
But in the afternoon the current points leader struck back, winning two of the roughest stages that led to several of those running behind him to suffer punctures, including team-mate Sébastien Ogier and Hyundai’s Ott Tänak who both punctured twice.
In Ogier’s case, he had to retire due to carrying only a single spare.
Evans clawed back 2.9s to Rovanperä on the day-ending Lousada superspecial to build the overnight gap to 13.6s.
He’d been concerned about pushing amid the rough conditions but backed his approach of being somewhat cautious on the afternoon pass.
“Pretty happy to be here, there’s been some pretty extreme conditions,” said Evans. “I think everyone is trying to pick their way through, to a point it was a lottery but you have to try and drive as quick as you can.
“You can always say you could have gone faster but would you still have been here or not? I don’t know, it’s difficult to say.”
Toyota’s lead pairing have effectively checked out at the front, as issues for their main rivals fell by the wayside and led Dani Sordo to move up from outside the top 10 to third over the course of Friday.
After Loeb’s retirement Thierry Neuville looked set to present the biggest challenge to Evans but he too fell behind, as a broken driveshaft cost him nearly two minutes across the final two stages and dropped him from second to seventh.
With Neuville and Tänak freefalling down the classification it was left to Dani Sordo to pick up the pieces for Hyundai, who’s now only 5.2s ahead of the junior team Toyota of Takamoto Katsuta.
Katsuta could well have been in the final podium position overnight had he not suffered a spin on Góis that cost him around 20 seconds.
Gus Greensmith, now the lead M-Sport runner, also remains in touch with the podium battle, 16.3s behind Sordo. His team-mate Pierre-Louis Loubet will also be rueing what might have been, as an overshoot on Mortágua cost him half a minute and and what would likely have been third place.
M-Sport’s lead driver in the championship standings Craig Breen had a somewhat subdued Friday, suffering a puncture on Góis and then losing time with an off on Mortágua. While he’s down in eighth overnight, he’s only 2.9s behind Neuville.
Adrien Fourmaux had brought only one spare in the back of his Ford Puma Rally1, so when he suffered a puncture on the first stage of the Friday afternoon loop, he was forced to back off and play it safe for the rest of the loop.
Before his puncture he’d been fastest on the split times during the second pass of Lousã but his safety-first approach meant he remained rooted near the bottom end of the top 10, 14.3s off Breen in ninth.
Tänak revealed that he’d been struggling with transmission issues all day on his i20 Rally1. But even without that setback, two punctures had already set him back over three minutes, leaving him as the last Rally1 car running.
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +2m37.7s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +0.8s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +0.9s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +0.9s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +1.9s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +2.9s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +3.0s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +3.8s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Vincent Landais (M-Sport Ford) +7.2s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +14.4s
Leading positions after SS9
- Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) + 1h25m43.3s
- Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +13.6s
- Dani Sordo/Cándido Carrera (Hyundai) +44.4s
- Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota) +49.6s
- Gus Greensmith/Jonas Andersson (M-Sport Ford) +1m00.7s
- Pierre-Louis Loubet/Landais (M-Sport Ford) +1m15.6s
- Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +1m46.4s
- Craig Breen/Paul Nagle (M-Sport Ford) +1m49.3s
- Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (M-Sport Ford) +2m03.6s
- Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +3m38.4s