Thierry Neuville has squandered his third place on Rally Portugal as he smacked a bank with his Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC while Ott Tänak has stolen the rally lead from Dani Sordo.
Neuville was 1.1 seconds ahead of team-mate Tänak and 8.2s adrift of Sordo before SS7 Mortágua – a brand-new stage to the modern WRC event – but would be caught out on a tightening left-hander.
Neuville’s Hyundai approached way too quickly, clouted a bank on the right and spun onto its side, facing the opposite direction to the stage.
Both Neuville and Martijn Wydaeghe leapt out the car to assess the damage before managing to continue to the end of the stage, but the rear-right wheel was hanging at a 45° angle and the rear-left tire had also de-beaded slightly from the rim.
“I had a pacenote which was really too fast,” said Neuville as he explained the accident.
“I tried to correct it there was something like a tree stump that put us on its side. We thought the car wasn’t damaged but we’re going to see if we can repair.”
True to their word, the pair stopped their car next to the public road shortly after the stage and FIA technical delegates had a look at the damaged i20 as Neuville and Wydaeghe worked on the rear-right corner.
Neither of their Hyundai team-mates had a particularly encouraging run on the stage either, but Tänak finds himself as the new rally leader as Sordo stalled his engine at a hairpin and his Hyundai refused to restart.
It’s an issue that’s plagued the team of late – including for both Tänak and Sordo earlier this weekend and Neuville on Rally Croatia. But Sordo was more concerned about the condition of his tires.
“I don’t have a choice I can’t push, I don’t have the material to push, the tires are finished,” he said.
Toyota’s Elfyn Evans was another to be frustrated as he was heavily impacted by Neuville’s error, getting caught in thick plumes of dust left by Neuville’s Hyundai. At points Evans was travelling as slowly as 10kph (6mph).
It cost Evans 37.3s to his team-mate Sébastien Ogier and dropped him to sixth, 17.3s behind. However it remains a possibility that Evans will be handed a notional time that would reverse that switch in positions.
In amongst the mayhem, Takamoto Katsuta has moved up into the podium places “despite hitting the bank maybe twice” for the first time in his World Rally Championship career.
Ogier, despite feeling SS7 was the worst stage of the day for the cleaning effect, managed to set the quickest time on the stage from the first on the road to vault up to fourth position, 2.3s clear of team-mate Kalle Rovanperä.
M-Sport’s Adrien Fourmaux was another to make an error on Mortágua, running wide on a sweeping left-hand bend and hitting something with the rear-right of his Fiesta WRC. The Frenchman lost 54.7s as he completed the test with a punctured right-rear tire.
Gus Greensmith felt his stage performance was “terrible” but in light of all the drama around him, moved up into seventh overall and set the second-fastest stage time.
Evans was outpaced by the top four in WRC2, with Hyundai junior Oliver Solberg taking the stage win for Rally2 cars by a huge 11.4s over Volkswagen Polo GTI driver Nikolay Gryazin, who was 0.1s faster than Esapekka Lappi.
Just 1.7s separate Lappi and Gryazin, both in Polos, in the battle for 10th. M-Sport’s Teemu Suninen is third in WRC2 and 9.5s behind.
1 Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Toyota) 11m42.7s
2 Gus Greensmith/Chris Patterson (M-Sport Ford) +5.3s
3 Takamoto Katsuta/Daniel Barritt (Toyota) +5.7s
4 Ott Tänak/Martin Järveoja (Hyundai) +9.0s
5 Kalle Rovanperä/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota) +17.4s
6 Oliver Solberg/Aaron Johnston (Hyundai) +21.1s
Leading positions after SS7
1 Tänak/Järveoja 1h20m03.6s
2 Sordo/Rozada +3.0s
3 Katsuta/Barritt +12.0s
4 Ogier/Ingrassia +22.7s
5 Rovanperä/Halttunen +25.0s
6 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota) +40.0s
7 Greensmith/Patterson +59.2s
8 Adrien Fourmaux/Renaud Jamoul +1m27.4s
9 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai) +3m15.8s
10 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Volkswagen) +3m27.9s