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WRC - After SS4: Latvala leads Rally Portugal, top 5 less than 5 seconds apart

A thrilling first morning!

19 May 2017 - 14h28, by Olivier Ferret 

A thrilling first morning of Rally Potugal has seen five drivers able to claim stage wins over just three stages, with only 4.8 seconds separating the leading five crews.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT driver Jari Matti Latvala enters the day’s first service with a slender lead, despite running second on the road and suffering from a back ailment. The Finn was second in SS2 and took SS3 honours before coming back to the field in SS4, as Citroën’s Kris Meeke closed to just half a second.

Hyundai’s Hayden Paddon started the day on a mission, blasting through the 26.7-kilometre Viana do Castelo to take the SS2 stage win and snatch the rally lead by 2.4s over Latvala. However, his luck would change in SS3 as his i20 WRC unexpectedly shut down, forcing the Kiwi to do a restart and costing 9.7s to Latvala.

Latvala was pleased immediately after completing SS3, and setting a time that would ultimately win the stage and take the rally lead. “That should be good,” he said, before elaborating on his back injury. “Yesterday night I wasn’t sure if I would drive today. Luckily we have a good team and my recovery started overnight. I’m not 100 per cent – about 97.”

SS4 saw one of the more rare events in the FIA World Rally Championship, with three drivers – M-Sport Ford’s Ott Tanak, and Citroën’s Craig Breen and Kris Meeke – all setting the exact same time of 19:14.0 to claim stage honours.

The result would see all three close in on Latvala, with Meeke +0.5s, Tanak +1.2s and Breen +1.4s. Defending World Champion Sébastien Ogier sits in fifth in his Ford Fiesta WRC, just 4.8s behind the leader.

Irishman Breen could not wipe the smile from his face after the first three stages of Friday morning. “The car is an absolute pleasure. I have never driven anything so awesome in my life. It does exactly what I want. Feeling really good.”

Meanwhile in WRC2, Andreas Mikkelsen continued his domination of the category in the Skoda Fabia R5. The Norwegian won all three morning stages to establish a 35.9s lead over team mate Pontus Tidemand.

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