Thierry Neuville takes championship lead with Rally Portugal victory
Thierry Neuville claimed victory in Rally Portugal on Sunday afternoon to clinch the lead of the championship from Sébastien Ogier.
Victory at the gruelling four-day dirt road encounter promoted the Belgian to the top of the standings as the series approaches its midpoint. After starting 10 points behind reigning champion Ogier, the Belgian leaves Portugal with a 19-point advantage.
Neuville steered his Hyundai i20 away from trouble during a weekend of attrition that sidelined many frontrunners to win by 40.0sec from Elfyn Evans’ Ford Fiesta.
Fellow title challengers Ogier and Ott Tänak ended pointless after falling foul of Friday’s rock-strewn speed tests and Neuville pressed home his advantage by claiming four extra bonus points in the final Power Stage.
He moved to the front near the end of Friday’s first leg after the lead changed hands six times in a frantic opening. He doubled his advantage yesterday and eased through Sunday’s finale to secure his second win of the year.
“It was a clever approach all weekend,” he said. “I had a fantastic car which was working well and I felt comfortable. We can be proud of what we achieved here There are a lot of Portuguese mechanics in the team and I think the party is going to be big tonight!”
Second for Evans eased the pressure after a disappointing season and team-mate Teemu Suninen helped erase the frustration of Ogier’s blank weekend in the M-Sport Ford squad by claiming his maiden podium. He finished 7.3sec behind the Welshman.
Suninen held off Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo in an intense fight for the final podium place. Lappi was 7.4sec adrift of his fellow Finn in a Toyota Yaris with Spaniard Sordo 6.2sec further back in his i20.
Sordo went to bed last night in third but woke up this morning in fourth after receiving a 10sec penalty for dislodging two bales on a Porto street stage roundabout on Friday night.
Round seven promises a high-summer shootout on the Mediterranean island of Sardinia. The all-gravel Rally Italia Sardegna is based in Alghero on 8 - 10 June.
1. T Neuville / N Gilsoul BEL Hyundai i20 3hr 49min 46.6sec
2. E Evans / D Barritt GBR Ford Fiesta + 40.0sec
3. T Suninen / M Markkula FIN Ford Fiesta + 47.3sec
4. E Lappi / J Ferm FIN Toyota Yaris + 54.7sec
5. D Sordo / C del Barrio ESP Hyundai i20 + 1min 00.9sec
6. M Østberg / T Eriksen NOR Citroën C3 + 3min 33.5sec
FIA World Rally Championship (round 6 of 13):
1. T Neuville 119pts
2. S Ogier 100pts
3. O Tänak 72pts