Power issue takes Neuville out of podium battle

He was unable to get his car out of third gear on Sunday morning's opening stage

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Thierry Neuville has dropped over a minute, and lost likely any chance of a Rally of Portugal podium, with some sort of power issue on Sunday morning’s opening stage.

Beginning Sunday’s leg with a commanding 57.5-second lead, Kalle Rovanperä has done all the hard work to secure his first World Rally Championship win as World Rally champion. Attention therefore pivoted on the fight between the three Hyundai drivers instead.

Dani Sordo held second spot by 11.1s over Neuville after Saturday, with the other i20 N Rally1 of Esapekka Lappi another 2.3s back. But speculation is mounting that Hyundai will ask Neuville to finish second to boost his drivers’ championship bid.

But all of that talk soon became academic when Neuville’s Hyundai developed a mechanical problem before the start of SS16.

TV cameras picked him up on driving at a sedate pace through the stage, unable to climb beyond third gear – and replays showed his pace had been restricted right from the moment he left the start-line.

“It’s over,” Neuville said.

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Asked what the issue is, he said: “Something similar to yesterday evening, we need to find out.”

Neuville’s Hyundai had been spotted in the final media zone of Saturday with smoke pouring from the engine bay.

Ott Tänak has therefore gained a position and climbed up to fourth, 8.9s ahead of Neuville while Sordo now looks secure in second with 21.1s in hand over team-mate Lappi.

But the M-Sport driver had a small problem of his own.

“Hybrid didn’t like the short night overnight,” Tänak said, “seems like this guy isn’t waking up today! Let’s bring it to the finish now.”

Rally leader Rovanperä was second fastest on the stage, just 1.8s shy of Takamoto Katsuta who impressively topped the test despite running as first car on the road.

Elsewhere, Gus Greensmith now leads WRC2 after Oliver Solberg was handed a one-minute penalty for executing some donuts at the end of Saturday evening’s superspecial.

Words:Luke Barry