He edged Kris Meeke by a tenth of a second through the 4.60km Baltar speed test. Teemu Suninen, who claimed his first WRC podium here 12 months ago, was third, 0.3sec behind in a Ford Fiesta.
Portugal marks Neuville’s return to competition following his sixth gear shunt at Copec Rally Chile three weeks ago which destroyed his Hyundai i20 and left the Belgian on crutches with a leg injury.
“I’m feeling OK. Still a little bit of pain but when I’m driving and the helmet is on everything is fine,” said Neuville, who picked out Friday’s opening leg stages in the Arganil region, near Coimbra, as ones to watch.
“Friday’s stages are new so it might be an additional challenge for everybody with new pace notes. They are more challenging stages due to the fact they are a little narrower in some places and quite twisty in some sections. It will be a tough day,” he added.
Ott Tänak set the pace in the opening run in his Toyota Yaris before M-Sport Ford’s Suninen moved to the top of the rankings in the second pass.
As temperatures approached 30°C and the gravel roads became cleaner, Neuville posted the benchmark time in his third and final run. Meeke came close to matching him in his Citroën C3 but fell just short in his fourth attempt.
Tänak’s opening run was good enough to hold fourth, tied with Sébastien Loeb’s i20. Dani Sordo rounded off the top six in another Hyundai.
Elfyn Evans suffered a power steering-related problem on his Fiesta at the finish of his opening run. The Welshman returned to the Matosinhos service park where the issue was repaired before heading back out for two more runs.
|1.||Thierry NEUVILLE||Hyundai i20 WRC||03:02.1|
|2.||Kris MEEKE||Toyota Yaris WRC||+0.1s|
|3.||Teemu SUNINEN||Ford Fiesta WRC||+0.4s|
|4=||Ott TANAK||Toyota Yaris WRC||+0.6s|
|4=||Sébastien LOEB||Hyundai i20 WRC||+0.6s|
|6.||Dani SORDO||Hyundai i20 WRC||+0.9s|
|7.||Jari-Matti LATVALA||Toyota Yaris WRC||+1.1s|
|8.||Esapekka LAPPI||Citroën C3 WRC||+1.3s|
|9=||Elfyn EVANS||Ford Fiesta WRC||+1.7s|
|9=||Gus GREENSMITH||Ford Fiesta WRC||+1.7s|