WRC Rallye de Portugal 2014 t has been a day of intense competition and high drama which saw a close battle for the lead followed by retirement of the two top drivers. José Suárez had his 21.4 second overnight lead slashed after fellow Spaniard Yeray Lemes went fastest on the opening two stages today. Lemes was over 12 seconds quicker on the 31.9km Santana da Serra stage to close the gap to just 3.9 seconds.
With stage 10 cancelled for the Drive DMACK Fiesta Trophy runners, the repeat loop of three stages after mid-day service saw conditions turn ultra-tough. Torrential rain earlier in the week left roads in bad shape and the second pass exposed hard bedrock and rutted roads.
Suárez responded to the attack to go fastest on stage 11. However, on the following test Lemes damaged a rear wheel and suspension, and was forced into retirement. Then just a few kilometres down the road Suárez slid off and was unable to get his car back on the stage.
That handed Frenchman Quentin Gilbert a three-minute lead which he extended to nearly three and a half minutes by the end of the day with a 0.5 second stage win. Sander Pärn moves into second with Brit Tom Cave third.
The dramatic WRC debut continued for Finn Max Vatanen. He suffered a road section collision and was late into service but, undeterred, set his first fastest time of the Trophy on stage 12.
Quentin Gilbert said: “Today has gone very well for us and we have stuck to our plan, maintaining a comfortable pace. It was important to try and not make any mistakes especially when the conditions were tough on the second pass. Now we are at the front it will be even more important to focus on the finish tomorrow.”
Sander Pärn said: “My pace was developing well throughout the day and I’m happy to be here in second place. We’ve had a good battle with Tom Cave today and I was lucky to get away with clipping a tree on stage 12. I’m driving well in the fast sections but we need to see how the battle develops tomorrow.”
Tom Cave said: “We had a strong morning and I really enjoyed the stages, but the long one today was very tough and difficult to judge the right pace to go. We touched a tree and rolled on the last stage but luckily just lost around 40 seconds. We need to see how tomorrow and the battle for second shapes up.”
1. Quentin Gilbert 3h 34m 27.9s
2. Sander Pärn 3h 37m 57.1s
3. Tom Cave 3h 38m 19.5s
4. Ghislain de Mevius 3h 41m 18.9s
5. Szymon Kornicki 3h 42m 21.9s
6. José Suárez 3h 44m 07.8s