Rally de Portugal has a reputation for being the World Rally Championship’s most unforgiving event – and the Irish contingent competing there this weekend experienced that for themselves yesterday.
Power steering gremlins meant WRC2 runner Josh McErlean failed to complete the Friday leg, while suspension damage stopped FIA Junior World Rally Championship challenger Jon Armstrong in his tracks.
Prior to that setback, Armstrong had been leading the one-make series by one-and-a-half minutes. “We didn’t hit anything – it was a result of the rough stages we’ve been rallying through,” said the Kesh man.
McErlean and Armstrong will re-join the action today along with Moira’s William Creighton who bowed out yesterday because he didn’t have a second spare in the boot of his car to replace a front-left puncture.
In the World Rally Championship, Craig Breen was another that had a day to forget on the first pure gravel counter of the season. However, he is confident of bagging points that, moving forward, could prove crucial if he is to remain in the hunt for a first-ever WRC drivers’ crown.
The M-Sport Ford driver and his Irish team-mate Paul Nagle resume round four today from eighth position but know the rough nature of Portugal’s roads mean anything is possible.
“It has been an incredibly tough day for everybody but look, we are at the end of it despite having so many problems,” he said. “The speed has been good – which is important – so I’m happy with that.”
A strong start that placed the pair fourth overall after two Friday stages was abruptly halted as plumes of dust began to fill the cockpit of their Puma on SS3. The problem persisted until the lunchtime tyre fitting zone where mechanics set about sealing up any panel gaps they suspected of allowing dirt in.
Breen and Nagle suffered further hardship on stage six when their Puma Rally1 car collected a front-left puncture before a loss of hybrid power inflicted further time loss. Matters went from bad to worse on Friday’s penultimate stage as a brief lapse in concentration resulted in Breen running wide and spinning.
Toyota’s Takamoto Katsuta and his Fintona co-driver Aaron Johnston had considerably fewer setbacks to contend with, their steady approach ensuring they start today in fourth, 5.2 seconds adrift of third-placed Rally1 debutant Dani Sordo.
Having steered clear of danger, Elfyn Evans provisionally leads the Matosinhos-based event outright by 13.6 seconds from Kalle Rovanpera.