Katsuta snatches Portugal lead as crash delays running

Toyota leads the way but Hyundai is giving chase after three stages

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Takamoto Katsuta has taken the lead of Rally Portugal from early pacesetter Thierry Neuville.

World Rally Championship points leader Neuville had led overnight after the opening superspecial but Katsuta was quickest on the Mortágua stage – much to the Toyota driver’s surprise.

“To be honest I had a quite bad feeling in the car, so I didn’t expect it was good,” he said at the stage end.

Mortágua is different in character to the remainder of the Friday stages in Portugal – its narrow tree-lined roads were still damp and thus traditional road order dynamics on gravel went out the window.

When the crews reached Lousã the leaderboard began to shift: Neuville fell behind Hyundai team-mate Ott Tänak as well as Katsuta, being demoted to third place.

Meanwhile, a slow start for reigning champion Kalle Rovanperä was quickly amended by setting the second-fastest time on Lousã, bringing himself up to fourth place, 2.1s off the podium places.

Katsuta is not manufacturer-nominated in Portugal, so Elfyn Evans is Toyota’s next points-scoring car in fifth place, a mere 0.3s up on Sébastien Ogier.

The eight-time world champion admitted he wasn’t fully on it first thing in the morning: “I was not really on it, to be honest,” Ogier confessed. “I need to find more confidence.”

Dani Sordo had lost time hand-over-fist on Mortágua, clocking in 12 seconds slower than rally leader Katsuta. But the three-time WRC rally winner had found his groove again on Lousã, exploiting his place as last Rally1 car on the road to go fastest by 3.2s.

“The first stage was really bad for me; I never liked this stage,” said Sordo. “But you have two choices: come back or stay at home. It is what it is, I had to come back and do what I know.”

Stage two was canceled for some of the later WRC2 runners and the start of stage three was subsequently delayed, as Yuki Yamamoto crashed and blocked the stage.

Pepe López

Pepe López has a new car for this rally – but it didn't get very far

Yamamoto wasn’t the only one caught out by Mortágua’s narrow yet fast tree-lined roads. Pepe López, who’s switched to a Ford Fiesta Rally2 for this event, ran wide and clipped a bank, which spun him around and triggered a rollover. While the crew were fine, the car was not, leading to López’s retirement.

Oliver Solberg has gone fastest in WRC2 on both Friday morning stages so far. The Škoda factory driver leads title rival Yohan Rossel’s Citroën by 7.1s.