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After a five-week break, the WRC returns to action into Portugal. The Citroën Total Abu Dhabi WRT will be looking to its crew s, Mikko Hirvonen/Jarmo Lehtinen and Dani Sordo/Carlos del Barrio, to maintain the lead in the Manufacturers’ World Championship that it has held since the start of the season. Khalid Al-Qassimi and Scott Martin return to action in the Abu Dhabi Citroën Total WRT’s DS3 WRC after missing the last round in Mexico.

Like most of the squads involved in the WRC, Citroën Racing and its crews will be in Fafe, near Porto, this weekend for a ‘rally sprint’, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of spectators. They will then head for the Algarve region, where the rally proper will get underway.

Although three quarters of the stages are similar to previous years, the breakdown of the event has been extensively altered. Friday’s leg is now something of a marathon, with four stages completed without service period, followed by a long road section to Lisbon. After a 3.27km super special stage, the crews will set off in the opposite direction, returning to where they started, to complete their 665km and 14-hour long trek! It goes without saying that starting positions and tyre choice will be essential for this first day. The two other legs will be more conventional, although competitors will have to tackle the 52km-long Almodovar stage twice on Sunday…

After three rallies with very distinctive features, Rally de Portugal may be considered to be a more conventional gravel round, with stages alternating between fast portions and tight, narrow sections. “The surface provides a good level of grip and above all else, that’s what I like about it”, indicated Dani Sordo. “However, if it rains like last year, then the course becomes a bit of an ice rink, and the outcome of the rally is anyone’s guess. I have already managed three podium finishes in Portugal in the C4 WRC, so if I could just climb a step or two on the podium, that would be perfect! I’m pleased with the work we have done in testing. The new set-up has made me feel more c onfident and I can’t wait to put that into practice in the rally.”

Comfortable in the hilly stages of the Algarve, Mikko Hirvonen goes into this, the fourth round of the season with victory firmly in his sights: “We worked in testing to keep improving. To win this season, we’ll need to have a perfect rally, starting with the qualifying stage. I only have one target this weekend: I want to be fighting for the lead from the very start.”

After competing in Sweden, Khalid Al-Qassimi will be starting his second WRC rally in the DS3 WRC. On a surface that comes more naturally to him than the Scandinavian roads, the Abu Dhabi driver will be aiming for a top 10 finish: “Portugal is an event that I know reasonably well. After two rallies in the Middle East in the DS3 RRC, I am starting to find some rhythm. So I think I can fight for a place in the points. But to do that, I’ll need to avoid making any mistakes.”


What have you been up to since Rally Mexico?

“The five-week break meant I could have a fairly light schedule. Apart from promotional work, we obviously did work during specific testing for this rally. I can’t go into details about what we worked on, but the fact is that we have improved the set-up of the DS3 WRC. The car slides less and I felt more confident driving it. As ever, we must be cautious, because the conditions of the rally won’t necessarily be the same as those we had in testing…”

There is already a clear gap to the leader of the Drivers’ World Championship. Have you given up on the title?
“No, of course not! It’s true that Sébastien Ogier has made a perfect start to the season, but there are still ten rallies left. Although we haven’t looked entirely convincing recently, we are going to do everything to improve our fortunes. That’s why I want to fight for the lead in the early stages in Portugal.”

What do you think about the format of the event?
“Like all the drivers, I’m not a big fan of road sections that involve spending several hundred kilometres on the motorway, especially when it’s just to complete a three kilometre-long city centre stage! Fortunately, the ‘real’ stages are very beautiful, so that makes up for it a bit. However, it’s good to have a biggie like the Almodovar stage on Sunday. The bonus points for the Power Stage, awarded on the second running of the stage, will be highly prized. There’ll be something up for grabs right to the finish!”
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