Roughly 100,000 fans on the iconic Fafe stage, and thousands more along the entire rally route – the Rally Portugal was once again enough to give anyone goosebumps. Kris Meeke became the fourth different winner in five WRC rounds this season after triumphing at the Vodafone Rally de Portugal. The Northern Irishman, returning to the championship after missing the previous two rallies in the Americas, shook off the rust to win the four-day rough road event by 29.7sec in Citroën’s DS 3. It was his second success in the WRC after victory in Argentina last year.
The first WRC event on European gravel proved to be a test for man and machine in equal measures – and the Rally Portugal lived up to its reputation as being particularly tough on the cars. With a loose layer of gravel covering the stages on the first loop, and sharp stones on the second, the drivers really had to be on the ball at all times – and they once again proved to be up to the task.
Thirty-six-year-old Meeke followed Sébastien Ogier, Jari-Matti Latvala and Hayden Paddon onto the top step of the WRC podium in 2016 after building a lead of almost a minute during the first part of the rally and measuring his pace through the final day-and-a-half.
Meeke took the lead in the second stage on Friday morning and remained trouble free on the rocky mountain roads in the north of the country, making the most of clean and sticky conditions courtesy of a low start position. After an overly-cautious opening day, a rejuvenated Andreas Mikkelsen upped his pace to grab second from team-mate and championship leader Ogier.
“It was nearly a perfect weekend, a text book performance. It’s another step for me as a driver. This year is all about gathering experience and I couldn’t have done any more. We’ll use these rallies this year for our benefit and try to mount a title challenge next year,” said Meeke, who is driving a part-program as Citroën develops a new car for 2017.
Andreas Mikkelsen, “The Rally Portugal got better with every day for Andreas and me. In the end, it feels great to take our place on the podium again as runners-up, and to have gone one better than I did last year. We definitely found the perfect set-up for the difficult conditions here in Portugal on Saturday and Sunday. That and Andres’ outstanding work on the Recce are what made this superb result possible. Plus, we have climbed into second place in the overall standings. We can be proud of our result in Portugal and are already looking forward to the next round of the championship – the Rally Italy.”
Ogier suffered two and with just one spare wheel in his Polo R, he compromised his pace to ensure he completed the final Power Stage and reach the Matosinhos finish after topping up one of the flat tires with air. Dani Sordo finished fourth after his hopes of a podium ended yesterday due to stability issues with the rear of his Hyundai i20.
Round six takes competitors to the Mediterranean island of Sardinia for Rally Italia Sardegna, which is based in Alghero on the 9th to the 12th of June.
FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), Rally Portugal – Final Results
01. Kris Meeke/Paul Nagle (GB/IRL), Citroën, 3h 59m 01.0s
02. Andreas Mikkelsen/Anders Jæger (N/N), Volkswagen, + 29.7s
03. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F), Volkswagen, + 34.5s
04. Dani Sordo/Marc Martí (E/E), Hyundai, + 1m 37.1s
05. Eric Camilli/Benjamin Veillas (F/F), Ford, + 4m 01.6s
06. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN), Volkswagen, + 4m 06.9s
07. Mads Østberg/Ola Fløene (N/N), Ford, + 6m 53.6s
08. Martin Prokop/Jan Tománek (CZ/CZ), Ford, + 10m 24.1s
09. Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson (S/S), Škoda, + 11m 45.2s
10. Nicolás Fuchs/Fernando Mussano (PE/RA), Škoda, + 13m 14.0s