FIA WORLD RALLY CHAMPIONSHIP 2017 -WRC Portugal (POR) -  WRC 18/05/2017 to 21/05/2017 - PHOTO : @World

PHOTO: Mads Ostberg tied with Thierry Neuville on the opening stage of Vodafone Rally de Portugal (M-Sport pic)

MADS Østberg and Thierry Neuville will start the first full day of Vodafone Rally de Portugal on Friday tied for the lead after setting equal times on Thursday night’s opening super special stage.

Drivers ran two laps, two-at-a-time against each other on the mixed surface Lousada rallycross stage, providing great entertainment for an estimated 35,000 fans.

Østberg, driving a privately-run Ford Fiesta on the event where he won his only WRC rally in 2012, defeated Hayden Paddon in their duel and said: “I saw after one lap that it was very close. I struggled a little on the second lap and made a few small mistakes, which maybe cost a tenth of a second. But I won by a tenth, so I’m happy.”

Neuville faced Kris Meeke in the penultimate headline heat and the Belgian won by 2.0sec in a Hyundai i20 Coupe.

“It was a great atmosphere to start the rally and I really enjoyed it. I’ve never had particularly good results in this rally so I will be looking for a podium,” he said.

Paddon’s narrow defeat nevertheless earned the Kiwi third in his i20 with Elfyn Evans a further two-tenths behind in fourth.

Dani Sordo, who was fastest in the morning’s shakedown, and Sébastien Ogier completed the top six.

Friday’s action takes competitors up the coast towards the Spanish border for three stages near Viano do Castelo. After service in Matosinhos, the loop is repeated before two runs through a new asphalt street test in Braga. It adds up to 148.32km of competition.

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