Rossel in the lead after the thriller Friday
The Frenchman, driving a Citroën C3 Rally2, arrived in Portugal with a point to prove after losing the lead in Rally Croatia in April.
On a day with high attrition rates, Rossel took a measured approach to the early stages, which included classics such as Arganil and Lousã.
Despite finishing the opening test in the eighth, he picked up back-to-back wins in SS5 and SS6 to take the lead, eventually returning to serve at Matosinhos with a tiny 3.5-second lead over Polish rival Kajetan Kajetanowicz.
“It’s a big fight with Kajto and all the other riders, but tomorrow is a long day, I think it’s a marathon. Today has been a good day for me but I need to work on the car for tomorrow, slow corners are not easy, ”said the chef.
Nicolas Ciamin was 14.2 seconds behind Kajetanowicz on another Citroën, followed by Chris Ingram, fourth rookie, in a Skoda Fabia Rally2 prepared by Toksport.
Ingram fell around 40 seconds in the Góis stage when he got caught in the dust caused by a slower car and followed the leaders by 53.5 seconds after a difficult day.
Local legend and ex-PWRC champion Armindo Araujo was 10.8sec behind in fifth place with another Skoda. Araujo was just 3.0 seconds ahead of Estonian Egon Kaur in a Volkswagen Polo R5.
Former football coach André Villas-Boas was delighted to arrive at the end of opening day for his WRC debut. The 43-year-old took a naturally cautious approach and ended up in 15th by the end of the game.
Drama for @JanSolans in SS5 ❌
He had led # WRC3 at the time ????
– WRC – FIA World Rally Championship (@OfficialWRC) May 21, 2021
First leader Pepe López was forced to retire on stage two due to suspension damage on his Citroën. After his disappearance, fellow Spanish national Jan Solans took the lead, but he also retired later in the day after pulling off the road in his similar car.
Emil Lindholm was also forced to stop late in the afternoon when punctures on his Fabia left him without enough tires to continue.
Other retirements included Austrian driver Niki Mayr-Melnhof, who suffered a spectacular accident in a Ford Fiesta Rally2, as well as Emilio Fernández, who stopped with technical problems in the afternoon.
• Full coverage of the Vodafone Rally de Portugal will be available on WRC + All Live here, including each stage broadcast as it goes, as well as key interviews, features and expert analysis of the service park.