Katsuta heads tight Friday fight in Portugal

Takamoto Katsuta has picked up where he left off in Croatia... fastest. Here's how Friday morning played out

Katsuta Portugal

Ten seconds split the top six drivers after a fascinating opening morning at Rally Portugal – but it’s Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta sitting at the top of the timesheets as the crews arrive into Arganil for Friday lunchtime’s remote tire zone.

Katsuta laid down a marker by winning the Mortágua stage first thing on Friday morning, with the Japanese taking the lead one stage later. He’s remained P1 since then.

But behind him the leaderboard has been shifting constantly. As first driver on the road, Thierry Neuville had struggled with the road-sweeping effect on Lousã and Góis, but a blinding time on Arganil delivered the championship leader a stage win, lifting him back to second place overall and 2.9s behind Katsuta.

After a slightly steady – by his world champion standings – start to the morning, Kalle Rovanperä has also been on a charge, clocking a trio of second-fastest stage times to move into third place overall and only 0.4s adrift of Neuville.

Kalle Portugal

Rovanperä struggled to find his form early doors before moving into third in a close battle at the front of the field

Neuville’s Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak briefly ran as high as second, before ending the morning fourth. As fourth car on the road, he benefitted from the cleaning effect from three cars ahead, which seemed to make a difference on Lousã and Góis.

A frustrated Sébastien Ogier is fifth, 7.5s behind his front-running Toyota team-mate Katsuta. The source of that frustration was his intercom: it had failed on Arganil, the longest stage of the loop, leaving co-driver Vincent Landais to resort to hand signals.

Despite the lack of spoken pace notes Ogier coped admirably, losing only three seconds to Neuville on stage five.

Dani Sordo’s morning was a tale of two halves. He dropped over 10s on Mortágua, a stage he confessed he has historically struggled with, but won both the Lousã and Góis before dropping five seconds on Arganil – the loss of hybrid didn’t help the Spaniard’s morning.

Seventh and eighth are Adrien Fourmaux and Elfyn Evans, both appeared to suffer more than Neuville in terms of road cleaning. M-Sport’s second Ford Puma, piloted by Grégoire Munster, is 1m26.5s off the leading pace.

Oliver Solberg is fending off the challenge from title rival Yohan Rossel so far, leading the WRC2 class by 10.9s from the Citroën driver.