Thierry Neuville has raced back into the lead in the 2018 FIA World Rally Championship after winning a gruelling Vodafone Rally de Portugal on the weekend.

Victory at the sixth round of the WRC in northern Portugal promoted Neuville to the top of the drivers’ standings for the second time this year as the series approaches its midpoint. After starting 10 points behind reigning champion Sébastien Ogier, the Belgian left Portugal 19 points ahead and with his Hyundai team still leading the manufacturers’ standings.

Neuville won by 40 seconds over M-Sport teammates Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, steering his Hyundai i20 away from trouble during four days of attrition that sidelined many frontrunners.

Ogier and fellow title challenger Ott Tänak were among drivers who ended pointless after falling foul of Friday’s rock-strewn stages. Kiwi Hayden Paddon’s return to Hyundai after 11 weeks on the bench started with victory on stage two but ended abruptly with a crash later in the day that ended his rally.

Neuville hit 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 on Saturday and pressed it home on Sunday by claiming four bonus points in the closing Power Stage to secure his second win of the year.

“It was a clever approach all weekend. I had a fantastic car which was working well and I felt comfortable,” he said. “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 teammate 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 Hyundai. Sordo went to bed on Saturday night in third but woke on Sunday 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.

Results, Vodafone Rally de Portugal (WRC round 6 of 13):

1) Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) 3h49m46.6s
2) Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +40.0s
3) Teemu Suninen/Mikko Markkula (Ford Fiesta WRC) +47.3s
4) Dani Sordo/Carlos Del Barrio (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m00.9s
5) Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +1m04.7s
6) Mads Ostberg/Torstein Eriksen (Citroen C3 WRC) +3m33.5s
7) Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +5m23.0s
8) Pontus Tidemand/Jonas Andersson (Skoda Fabia R5) +14m10.8s
9) Lukasz Pieniazek/Przemyslaw Mazur (Skoda Fabia R5) +16m17.3s
10) Stephane Lefebvre/Gabin Moreau (Citroen C3 R5) +16m34.3s

French driver Sébastien Ogier increased his lead in the 2017 FIA World Rally Championship with his second win of the season at Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Sunday. Steering home his Ford Fiesta 15.6sec ahead of Thierry Neuville in a Hyundai i20 Coupe, Ogier’s 40th career win also matched the 30-year-old record five Portugal wins of Finn Markku Alén.

Neuville’s teammate Dani Sordo finished third in the championship’s sixth round.

The result, concluded in front of huge spectator crowds on the famous Fafe stage near Porto in northern Portugal, boosted Ogier’s lead to 22 points in his chase for a fifth straight drivers’ world championship. Neuville moved from third to second in the standings, displacing Toyota’s Jari-Matti Latvala.

On the anniversary of his maiden WRC win in Portugal seven years ago, Ogier took the lead of the four-day gravel contest on Saturday morning. He controlled a comfortable advantage through the final leg to add to his season-opening win in Monte-Carlo. The 2017 championship ends on 16-19 November at Kennards Hire Rally Australia on the New South Wales Coffs Coast, where Ogier won in 2013-14-15. Tickets from $39 are on sale now from www.ticketek.com.

“After the struggle we had in the last round, it’s fantastic to be back on the top step of the podium again,” Ogier said at the Portugal finish. “I had a new car in Monte-Carlo and we won. I had a new car here and we won. I’m not sure if the team can afford to give me a new car for every rally!”

Remarkably, Ogier was one of seven drivers to lead during the rally. Belgian Neuville was another. With Mads Østberg, he topped the order in his Hyundai after Thursday night’s opening stage, but slipped away before recovering to second. Neuville, targeting a hat-trick after victories in Corsica and Argentina, changed his driving style to try to regain top spot, but conceded defeat early on Sunday morning.

Teammate Sordo finished a further 46.1sec behind in third. The Spaniard struggled with the handling of his i20 on the dusty gravel roads and could not fend off Ogier and Neuville after lying second earlier in the weekend. Ott Tänak looked to be the man to beat on Saturday. He led before swiping a bank and breaking his Fiesta’s suspension and brakes. He recovered to finish fourth, almost half a minute adrift of Sordo, but had the compensation of winning the rally-closing Power Stage and five bonus points.

Craig Breen was again the leading Citroën C3 driver in fifth, the fourth occasion in six rallies he has occupied that position. He was 27.2sec adrift of Tänak, but well over a minute clear of Elfyn Evans’ Fiesta. The championship reaches its midpoint on 8-11 June at Rally Italia Sardegna, based in Alghero.

RESULTS, Vodafone Rally de Portugal (Rd 6 of 13):

  1. Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (Ford Fiesta WRC) 3h42m55.7s
  2. Thierry Neuville/Nicolas Gilsoul (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +15.6s
  3. Dani Sordo/Marc Marti (Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC) +1m01.7s
  4. Ott Tänak/Martin Jarveoja (Ford Fiesta WRC) 1m30.2s
  5. Craig Breen/Scott Martin (Citroen C3 WRC) +1m57.4s
  6. Elfyn Evans/Daniel Barritt (Ford Fiesta WRC) +3m10.6s
  7. Juho Hänninen/Kaj Lindström (Toyota Yaris WRC) +3m48.6s
  8. Mads Østberg/Ola Floene (Ford Fiesta WRC) +5m29.7s
  9. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (Toyota Yaris WRC) +5m43.6s
  10. Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm (Toyota Yaris WRC) +8m13.3s

Kris Meeke ended a 13-week break from the FIA World Rally Championship with an emphatic win in Vodafone Rally de Portugal Sunday – but hopes for an Australian podium result were dashed just minutes from the end of the four-day event.

Meeke, who missed the previous two WRC rounds in Mexico and Argentina, led for all but the first of the 19 speed tests to win the championship’s fifth round in northern Portugal by 29.7sec in a Citroën DS 3. It was his second world success after triumphing in Argentina last year.

Andreas Mikkelsen of Norway outpaced teammate Sébastien Ogier on the final day to take second in a Volkswagen Polo R, relegating the French triple world champion to the last step of the podium by 4.8sec. Third place was looking certain in the WRC2 category for the Australian crew of Scott Pedder and co-driver Dale Moscatt until a spin on the final Power Stage cost almost 18 sec. and lost them the position by just 0.2 sec.

Fourth overall still equalled the 2014 Australian champions’ best result from their WRC2 debut last year, but after a stunning return to the 2016 series this weekend missing the podium so narrowly was a hard blow.

Pedder had recovered from a rollover in his Skoda Fabia R5 in the unofficial Shakedown session on Thursday morning and punctures on Friday and Saturday. He had fought back from a low position of 18th on Friday, achieved his maiden WRC stage win yesterday and held third spot by 17.6 sec. going into the final test on the spectacular Fafe stage.

With more than half a minute on Mikkelsen, Meeke, from Dungannon, Northern Ireland, had everything to lose and nothing to gain on the Power Stage and drove steadily to eighth spot.

The stage was a lock-out for Volkswagen, with Ogier taking the maximum three bonus championship points, Jari-Matti Latvala two points for second and Mikkelsen one point for third. Ogier, despite not winning the previous two rounds, continues to lead the championship comfortably, but Mikkelsen displaced Rally Argentina winner Hayden Paddon from second. The Kiwi suffered a catastrophic retirement on Saturday when his car caught fire and was completely destroyed after a relatively minor crash.

Meeke is now seventh in the championship, but not a serious contender as he conducts a part-time campaign while concentrating on the development of Citroen’s all-new 2017 World Rally Car.

 “I have to say it was a really perfect weekend – textbook,” he said at the finish. "A huge thanks for my team and my engineer who did a lot of work for this rally. I couldn't have done any more really. For me as a driver it's another step. Next year we'll mount a real challenge."

The championship continues with Rally Sardegna Italia on 9-12 June. Pedder and Moscatt will skip the island classic and resume their WRC2 campaign at PZM Rally Poland on 10-3 July. They also plan to contest Neste Rally Finland, Rally China-Beijing and Kennards Hire Rally Australia later in the year.

  1. K. Meeke / P. Nagle (Citroën DS3 WRC) 3:59.01.0
  2. A. Mikkelsen / A. Jaeger (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +29.7
  3. S. Ogier / J. Ingrassia (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) diff to first +34.5
  4. D. Sordo / M. Marti (Hyundai New Generation i20 WRC) +1:37.1
  5. E. Camilli / B. Veillas (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +4:01.6
  6. J-M. Latvala / M. Anttila (Volkswagen Polo R WRC) +4:06.9
  7. M. Østberg / O. Floene (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +6:53.6
  8. M. Prokop / J. Tomanek (Ford Fiesta RS WRC) +10:24.1
  9. P. Tidemand / J. Andersson (Skoda WRC2) +11:45.2
  10. N. Fuchs / F. Mussano (Skoda WRC2) +13:14.0
  11. S. Pedder / D. Moscatt (Skoda WRC2) +15:05.1

Norway’s Petter Solberg started his World Championship title defence in the best possible way by winning Bompiso Rallycross of Portugal, the opening round of the FIA World Rallycross Championship presented by Monster Energy. After a sensational drive in his privately run Audi A1 Supercar, Robin Larsson took the runner-up spot with EKS RX driver Topi Heikkinen rounding out the top three in his Audi S1 EKS quattro.

Andreas Bakkerud narrowly missed out on a podium spot, and ended the event fourth in his Hoonigan Racing Division Ford Focus RS Supercar. Nine-time WRC Champion Sebastien Loeb impressed on his World RX debut after he finished fifth in his Team Peugeot-Hansen run Peugeot 208 WRX Supercar. The Frenchman was knocked out of podium contention following a transmission issue.

Q1 winner Johan Kristoffersson [Volkswagen RX Sweden] was awarded the coveted Monster Energy Super Charge Award after beating his competitors to the first corner of the final. Last year’s Montalegre RX winner was unable to repeat his 2015 victory, however, following an on-track collision with Solberg which broke a driveshaft in his VW Polo.

EKS RX leads the Teams’ Championship: the Swedish squad accrued 38 points thanks to Heikkinen’s podium and Mattias Ekstrom finishing TQ [Top Qualifier] at the end of the event’s four qualifying sessions.

“I’m really happy - my team have put in countless hours working on the car in the factory recently and this win is for them,” explained event winner Solberg, who now tops the drivers’ standings. “At the end of Q2, I was seventh – I’ve been in worse positions but we had a team meeting and we made some set-up changes. Today started well but we had a faulty launch control system so I had to do a manual start. For the final, we had the same problem but actually I managed okay, sometimes the old fashioned way can work! Last year we had eight different winners throughout the season and in 2016, we have three or four extra drivers who are very capable of winning events so it’s not going to be easy that’s for sure!”

“Honestly, I didn’t expect to be here,” admitted runner-up Larsson, who was placed eighth after Q4. “Reaching the semi-final was our goal, so to make the final was a bonus and to finish second is a dream. It has been a bit of a crazy day and to be truthful, the semi-final and the final are a blur but I know that pushed really hard!”

Third-placed Topi Heikkinen added: “It’s been a weekend of ups and downs but it’s great to be on the podium and to be leading the teams’ standings. I had a launch problem at the start of the final but I kept pushing and managed to keep out of trouble. The season is long and there is still some work to do but generally the car feels good. It is a shame for my team-mate Mattias [Ekstrom] – he was top at the end of Q4 and it would have been good to see him in the final too.”

Elsewhere, it was a difficult weekend for Ken Block who struggled with a software glitch on day one which meant the throttle of his Ford Focus RS Supercar was stuck on open when the American tried to brake into a corner.

Last year’s runner-up Timmy Hansen was placed ninth at the Intermediate Classification but retired in the semi-finals after losing his car’s power steering following contact with Ekstrom in turn one. Olsbergs MSE driver Kevin Eriksson and JRM Racing’s Liam Doran both made it to the semi-finals, finishing eighth and tenth respectively.

In the Super1600 Championship, which saw a record-breaking 33 cars entered, it was Denmark’s Ulrik Linnemann who took the round one victory. Portugal’s Mario Barbosa took the runner-up spot in front of an ecstatic home crowd. Third place was taken by Russia’s Timur Shigaboutdinov

Paul Bellamy, World RX Managing Director for IMG, concluded: “Today we had a sell-out crowd in Montalegre with more than 10,000 fans. After relentless rain yesterday and most of Friday, we were blessed with dry weather for the majority of today and it was excellent to see packed grandstands and such passionate fans who clearly love to see close racing. We had five different manufacturers in the final with Citroen, Volkswagen, Peugeot, Audi and Ford Supercars all represented, which just goes to show how fiercely competitive our Championship has become. Credit to Petter Solberg who took the win - despite suffering some technical problems, his flat out driving style and tenacity out on track certainly proves why he is our reigning Champion.”

Round two of World RX will take place in three weeks’ time as the World Championship returns to Hockenheim in Germany to join DTM for a double header of motorsport action.

Jari-Matti Latvala secured his first WRC win of 2015 in Rally Portugal, topping Sebastien Ogier on the final three stages on Sunday. Latvala held a large advantage over Ogier with a 9.5 second lead after Saturday's stages despite having crashed out of contention in each of the previous three rallies. Latvala was able to close the gap to 7.8 seconds with a stage win in the first run through the Fafe test, however he responded in the next stage and opened up his advantage to 10.4 seconds with just the powerstage finale left to run. Latvala held his nerve, going just 2.2 seconds slower than his teammate to secure a sorely needed first win of the year by a margin of 9.2s while Ogier laid down the gauntlet with the fastest time through the stage, securing three bonus points in the process.

“After the time I’ve had in the last three rallies, some people doubted I’d ever come back,” said Latvala after crossing the line to secure his victory. “This has been one of the hardest periods of my career, so to win here is something really unique.” The Finn picked up two bonus points for his effort in the powerstage, with Andreas Mikkelsen claiming the remaining point and completing an all-Volkswagen podium, 28.6s off the pace in his first event with the 2015-spec Polo.

Mikkelsen started the day in fourth, but moved ahead of Meeke after SS14 as the Citroen driver suffered with a broken rear roll bar. Mikkelsen came home to secure a distant fourth place, 48.7 seconds behind Latvala, with Ott Tanak hanging on to a lonely fifth place, nearly two minutes off the pace in his M-Sport Fiesta. Dani Sordo was the top Hyundai driver in sixth, narrowly holding on from a recovering Mads Ostberg, with Haydon Paddon, ex-Formula 1 star Robert Kubica and Martin Prokop completing the top 10 finishers.

Ogier continues to control the drivers’ standings and has won the first three rounds of the year. The Frenchman has racked up 105 points, with Mikkelsen now his nearest challenger on 63. Latvala is down in fifth on 46 points, behind Citroen duo Ostberg and Meeke.