Jari-Matti Latvala (Photo Credit: World Rally Pics)

Jari-Matti Latvala (Photo Credit: World Rally Pics)

Jari-Matti Latvala led a dominant performance by the blue oval in Rally Portugal’s qualifying stage – the three mile stage setting the running order for the opening leg of the rally on Thursday.

Team-mate Petter Solberg was next, already 1.7 seconds down over the short sprint. It meant advantage Ford, with Mikko Hirvonen and Sebastien Loeb third and fourt in the works Citroens respectively. “I would like to have had a good time, but we took no risks. The stage was very tricky,” the Frenchman said.

At the other end of the timesheet, there were two drivers who made a mess of the qualifying sprint. Starting second-to-last will be another works Citroen driver, Nasser Al-Attiyah, who spun and dropped 15 seconds to the leaders. But instead, for the second time this season, is Paulo Nobre who has been left with the short straw, this time due to crashing his Mini mid-stage.

“I went off at slow speed,” Nobre explained. “I had made a mistake earlier in the stage and this had distracted me.”

The real surprise came when the running order was chosen. Predictably, Solberg and Latvala chose the final two slots, 17th and 18th, but Citroen made a surprise choice to take the first and second place picks – which will be changed to 2nd and 3rd thanks to Nobre’s qualifying stage DNF. Despite the unsual tactics, Citroen team principal Yves Matton seemed convinced they had made the right call.

“We chose this place because we believe it will be the best place,” he said. “We think there will be dust on the road tomorrow and if you go first on the road, this is the best way.”

“If you have dust sometimes then it can take the confidence from the driver; you go into a corner and there is nothing and then you come out of the corner and it is there. The next time the driver goes to the corner, he is always thinking: ‘Is there anything on the exit?’ This is not a good way.”

The split strategies by the WRC-spec field means Evgeny Novikov is in the unusual situation of starting third last, and with Mads Ostberg one place above the Russian, Ford is in a good position if road sweeping becomes the more decisive factor.

Day One Starting Order

1. Paulo Nobre (Mini)
2. Mikko Hirvonen (Citroen)
3. Sebastien Loeb (Citroen)
4. Ott Tanak (Ford)
5. Dani Sordo (Mini)
6. Jari Ketomaa (Ford)
7. Thierry Neuville (Citroen)
8. Armindo Araujo (Mini)
9. Martin Prokop (Ford)
10. Nasser Al-Attiyah (Citroen)
11. Daniel Oliveira (Ford)
12. Peter van Merksteijn Jr. (Citroen)
13. Dennis Kuipers (Ford)
14. Patrik Sandell (Mini)
15. Mads Ostberg (Ford)
16. Evgeny Novikov (Ford)
17. Petter Solberg (Ford)
18. Jari-Matti Latvala (Ford)