Sebastien Ogier lead a Citroen podium lockout after the first day of competition in Portugal, after winning 6 of the day’s 7 stages.
Dani Sordo won the first stage of the day, with Ogier in hot pursuit and championship leader Sebastien Loeb not far behind either, but he wasn’t able to take the final podium place away from Mikko Hirvonen straight away.
Once again the first stage of the rally appeared to be cursed for the Stobart Ford drivers – Henning Solberg‘s power steering failed and a bad pace-note for Ken Block caused him to lose over a minute.
Ogier made inroads on Sordo in SS3, going 0.7s quicker, and Petter Solberg but in a decisive third fastest time to move up to the same position overall.
Solberg however dropped the ball on the following stage – he missed a junction which cost him enough time for Hirvonen to leapfrog him back to 3rd place. By now Ogier had taken even more time out of Sordo and was leading going into midday service. Meanwhile Block was having more adventurous moments, this time one that would end his rally, by rolling his Focus just over 13km into SS4.
After service Hirvonen and Solberg contined to trade faster stage times, and the Norwegian retook the final podium place with just a stage left – only to lose it again, this time to a right-rear puncture.
Ogier ended the day with a much larger lead than he expected, after Sordo lost over 20 seconds with a throttle problem. With Solberg’s issues and Hirvonen’s general lack of pace, Loeb jumped from fifth to third on the final stage.
“I braked and the car continued to push. I had really good luck, because I went off a little bit,” Sordo explained. “I don’t know what happened. But I’ve arrived at the end, so I am happy.”
Ogier may hold a lead of almost half a minute – but with roadsweeping duties tomorrow the gap is still far from comfortable for the young Frenchman.
“Everything was okay today, almost perfect,” said Ogier. “I tried to push from the first stage to the last one to try to make the gap. I am happy with the gap and it would have been difficult to make it more. Now we are going to be first on the road tomorrow and I know that will be quite difficult.”
Jari-Matti Latvala was fighting his car all day after destroying his tyres, which he admitted was caused by his aggressive driving style. It left him in 6th place and over a minute behind Ogier.
IRC championship leader Juho Hanninen was the fastest S2000 car at the end of the first day, but as he wasn’t eligible for points the lead in the SWRC Cup went to Jari Ketomaa instead. He was running second for most of the day anyway, with former champion Nasser Al-Attiyah out front, after being reunited with the Ford Fiesta. It let him down however – a comfortable lead going into the final stage ended in a small deficit to Ketomaa after his power steering failed – the fact he only lost 30 seconds was something of a miracle, and understandable looking at the state of his driving gloves after the end of the stage.
“It's been okay today,” said Ketomaa. “I found a rhythm early in the day and stuck with it. This is a long rally and, as we have seen [with Al-Attiyah] anything can happen. The last stage of the day was tough for the tyres, we didn't have much grip.”
The final podium place was held by PG-Andersson, while championship leader and former Citroen works driver Xevi Pons was fourth.
Finally, there had already been drama in the battle JWRC honours, as Thierry Neuville had been pulling away from Suzuki driver Aaron Burkart all day, only to crash on the final stange and throw away his second chance of victory in as many rallies. This left Burkart with a huge lead over superspecial winner Yeray Lemes
Further down the JWRC there was bad news for Kevin Abbring – the Dutch youngster looked fast enough to take the fight to Burkart and Neuville for the lead, but on the fourth stage he picked up a puncture, dropping him down to third.
It was much worse for some however – rookie Harry Hunt had a miserable day – two crashes on the opening stage meant at one point he was last in the overall classification! However by the end of the day he was classified 7th in JWRC and 68th overall.
Day One Results
Rally de Portugal: Overall standings after Stage 7 / Day 1 (Top 10):
1. Sebastien Ogier 1hour 20mins 34.4secs
2. Dani Sordo +00mins 26.6secs
3. Sebastien Loeb +00mins 48.8secs
4. Mikko Hirvonen +00mins 46.9secs
5. Petter Solberg +00mins 49.9secs
6. Jari-Matti Latvala +01mins 02.8secs
7. Henning Solberg +01mins 20.7secs
8. Matthew Wilson +01mins 54.6secs
9. Mads Ostberg +02mins 37.3secs
10. Kimi Raikkonen +03mins 18.1secs