Mikko Hirvonen started Rally Portugal with a stage win in the Algarve Stadium, edging out fellow Ford driver Federico Villagra by just a tenth of a second, while championship leader Sebastien Loeb drove a cautious opening stage to 8th place, and Jari-Matti Latvala not even finishing inside the Top 10.
The biggest surprise of Thursday night’s stage was undoubtedly Argentinian independent Villagra coming within a tenth of leading a WRC event for the first time.
Elsewhere there weren’t any big surprises – Latvala may have finished 11th, but was only 2.3 seconds slower than his team-mate, far from a disaster.
Both the SWRC and JWRC are in town this weekend, but strangely one JWRC competitor lead the entire SWRC field after the first stage – local entrant Yeray Lemes in a Renault Clio. In hot pursuit were Eyvind Brynilsen, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Jari Ketomaa who were the top three SWRC entrants after the superspecial. Dutch JWRC duo Kevin Abbring and Hans Weijs Jr. rounded out the podium in their class.
Meanwhile a rally legend made his comeback today, one Juha Kankkunen, who will race a Ford Escort Mk II in the Rally of Portugal Revival this weekend. Also making a comeback is his former co-driver Nicky Grist who will once again start alongside the Finn.