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Monday, July 15, 2024
HomeRallyWRC – Portugal Primed As Seven-Event Gravel Stretch Begins

WRC – Portugal Primed As Seven-Event Gravel Stretch Begins

A seven-round sequence of FIA Word Rally Championship gravel events begins in Portugal next week (May 11-14) with the WRC title race finely balanced.

After four rounds, the top five drivers are separated by 11 points with the leading two – Sébastien Ogier and Elfyn Evans – tied on 69 points.

Because Ogier hasn’t included Vodafone Rally de Portugal on his part-time schedule, that essentially makes Evans the outright championship leader and the driver tasked with opening the road when the competitive action begins on Friday May 12.

With Portugal’s demanding stages typically soft and sandy in nature, drivers running higher up the order will be disadvantaged in dry conditions by having to sweep a clear line for their rivals following in hot pursuit. But when the stages are repeated, a lower starting position can be a disadvantage in the event of the stage surface deteriorating with each passing car when exposed rocks can create a greater risk of tyre damage.

However, if it rains heavily, the gravel will compact and benefit those drivers running at the front. But for those starting lower down the order, mud and standing water will only increase the challenge in store.

It’s not uncommon for the weather to change from warm and sunny to cool and wet. The roads are often undulating in nature with high-speed crests followed by demanding corners in several sections.

The challenge is not the only thing in plentiful supply on Rally de Portugal: thousands of fans will follow the action, headlined by the Rally1 Hybrid cars, and their enthusiasm for the sport creates a terrific atmosphere on the stages.

Part of the WRC when it began in 1973, Rally de Portugal has been based at the Exponor exhibition centre in Matosinhos, close to Porto, since it returned to its traditional northly hub in 2015 following six WRC editions in the Algarve to the far south.

Official WRC tyre supplier Pirelli is providing its Scorpion KX soft and hard tyres for Rally de Portugal. The soft compound is the first choice for use in cool and damp conditions. In warm and dry conditions, the hard compound will be the preferred choice. Rally1 teams can use a maximum of 28 tyres during the rally including four for Shakedown.


After Thursday morning’s shakedown in Baltar, the 56th Rally de Portugal begins with the ceremonial start in Coimbra on Thursday evening prior to the competitive action getting under way on Friday morning. The 121.25-kilometre route features three stages run twice – Lousã, Góis and Arganil – plus a single run through Mortágua and a new street stage in Figueira da Foz, which offers views of the Mondego River and the Atlantic Ocean. However, with no midday service, car preservation will be an important consideration.

Saturday’s second leg is the rally’s longest at 148.68 kilometres and includes three repeated stages – Vieira do Minho, Amarante and Felgueiras – either side of service in Matosinhos. No stage is longer than the 37.24-kilomtetre Amarante test, while the Lousada rallycross circuit stage moves from Friday to close Saturday’s schedule.

The new Paredes stage is up first on Sunday’s deciding leg ahead of the first of two passes of the 11.18-kilomtre Fafe stage, featuring the iconic Pedra Sentada jump. Cabeceiras de Basto follows prior to a regroup in the town of Fafe and is run in an opposite direction to 2022. The repeat of Fafe forms the points-paying Power Stage from 12:15. In total there are 19 stages over a timed distance of 325.35 kilometres.


Stage distance: 325.25 km
Total distance: 1644.92 km
Number of stages: 19


Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team: Thierry Neuville, a Portugal winner for Hyundai in 2018, is partnered by Esapekka Lappi and Dani Sordo. Sordo’s third place in Portugal last season was his sixth podium in the country, while Lappi took his first podium for Hyundai in Croatia last month.

M-Sport Ford World Rally Team: Ott Tänak is one point off the title lead prior to Rally de Portugal, the scene of his WRC debut in 2009. Pierre-Louis Loubet won WRC2 in Portugal in 2019.

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT: With Sébastien Ogier not competing in Portugal, Takamoto Katsuta is nominated to chase Manufacturers’ championship points for Toyota. Elfyn Evans is the Drivers’ championship leader after winning Croatia Rally. World champion Kalle Rovanperä won Rally de Portugal last season.


The popularity of the FIA WRC2 category for Rally2 cars is once again highlighted by a strong entry featuring a hugely impressive 44 crews. Leading contenders include current points leader Yohan Rossel (PH Sport Citroën C3 Rally2), 2021 champion Andreas Mikkelsen (Toksport WRT Škoda Fabia RS Rally2), his team-mates Gus Greensmith and Oliver Solberg, M-Sport Ford Fiesta Rally2 driver Adrien Fourmaux and Hyundai Motorsport N’s Teemu Suninen (Hyundai i20 N Rally2). Multiple Portuguese champion Armindo Araujo has recovered from injury to take part on his home round of the WRC and has vast event experience, as does Kris Meeke, who accepted an invitation Team Hyundai Portugal to replace Craig Breen following the Irishman’s tragic passing last month. Meanwhile, Robert Virves continues his prize drive opportunity for winning the FIA Junior WRC Championship in 2022 at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta Rally2.

Young Finnish drivers Roope Korhonen and Toni Herranen will battle for the FIA WRC3 category win in their Ford Fiesta Rally3 cars.

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