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The elite of the rallying world taking on the most abrasive special stages of the year – the Rally Portugal (03–06 April) poses one of the biggest challenges to drivers and technology on the WRC calendar.

The three Volkswagen works duos will be faced with rough, course gravel on a hard surface at the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship (WRC), as well as technically demanding passages with poor visibility due to the countless crests and corners. As championship leaders, defending champions and last year’s winners Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) have the honour of opening the route, in accordance with the new regulations. They will be followed by team-mates Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) in the second World Rally Car out onto the route. Fourth to go: Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula (N/FIN) in the third Polo R WRC.

“The Rally Portugal is the first real indicator of the season,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “It is the first gravel rally of the year to be held in spring temperatures and just above sea level. As such, it is similar to the coming rounds in Argentina, Italy and Poland. Here, you can see how you really compare to the opposition. I don’t think we need to be afraid of this comparison. We won here last year and have come out on top at the first three rallies of this season. However, we also know that we will have to do a flawless job to overcome the unfavourable starting positions and get the maximum out of this rally.”

VWPortugalpreviewVolkswagen will start as favourites in this weekend's Rally of Portugal.Typical Portugal: anything but your everyday rally

After facing the “unpredictable” at the Rally Monte Carlo, the only snow rally of the year in Sweden and the dizzy heights of Mexico, it is back to everyday business for the teams in the World Rally Championship. However, the Rally Portugal is anything but an everyday rally: it puts both man and machine to the test like no other rally on the WRC calendar. The narrow roads mean that any driving error is punished mercilessly, while the rough gravel consistently jolts the World Rally Cars about from the first to the last of the 339.46 kilometres of special stage. The Rally Portugal played an important role in the further development of the Polo R WRC last season. The knowledge that the Volkswagen engineers gained here, more than anywhere, were incorporated into the dimensions and design of the modified suspension components for 2014. The extreme demands of the Rally Portugal are largely responsible for the Polo R WRC arriving in Portugal even stronger than it was a year ago.

Re-acclimatised: five test days for Volkswagen in southern Portugal

Volkswagen prepared for the specific conditions it will face at the Rally Portugal with five days of testing. Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila and Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia both spent two days carrying out intensive tests with the Polo R WRC around Almodóvar in southern Portugal, while Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula was on hand for a further day of testing. Following the Rally Mexico, the Volkswagen team used the tests to ease its way back into “normal” conditions at roughly sea level and in temperatures around the 20-degree mark. The three Polo R WRC chassis to be used in Portugal still have some re-acclimatising to do. Their last outing was back at the Rally Sweden – in freezing temperatures and on snow and slush.

Play it again, Séb: three wins in Portugal in three different World Rally Cars

World Rally Champions Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia have particularly fond memories of the Rally Portugal. It was there in 2010 that they claimed their maiden WRC victory in the Citroën C4 WRC. They repeated the feat one year later in the Citroën DS3 WRC. And the French duo’s third victory at the Rally Portugal came last year in the Polo R WRC. Only one other man – Markku Alén – has ever claimed three wins in three different World Rally Cars at the Rally Portugal. With five victories to his name in Portugal, Alén is also the only WRC driver to have tasted success more often than Sébastien Ogier and his co-driver Julien Ingrassia in the country on the Iberian Peninsula. The Rally Portugal is currently the only WRC event that Ogier/Ingrassia have won three times.

Play it again, Jari: first for Latvala in the Polo R WRC twelve months ago

Last year’s Rally Portugal produced another first for Jari-Matti Latvala and Miikka Anttila, as they claimed their maiden podium finish with the Polo R WRC on the Algarve. In total, the Finnish duo has now picked up nine podiums from 16 rallies in Volkswagen colours. The last seven rallies have yielded six visits to the podium, including victory in Sweden. Coming into the Rally Portugal, the Finns find themselves second in the overall standings, just three points behind fellow Volkswagen drivers Ogier/Ingrassia.

Play it again, “Mikkel”: second Rally Portugal with Volkswagen

The Rally Portugal heralds a new era with Volkswagen for Ogier and Latvala’s team-mate Andreas Mikkelsen. The fourth round of the season sees the Norwegian return for a second crack at a rally with the Polo R WRC for the first time. While the previous twelve outings with Volkswagen and the 315-hp World Rally Car from Wolfsburg had been uncharted waters for Mikkelsen and co-driver Mikko Markkula, they are able to call upon past experience for the first time in Portugal. Mikkelsen, known by his friends as “Mikkel”, will benefit from the fact that about 71 per cent of the 2014 special stages are similar to those he encountered last year. Approximately 19 per cent will be tackled in the opposite direction, whilst only ten per cent of the rally will take place on completely new special stages.

On the verge of making history: the longest winning run in WRC history

A look at the World Rally Championship record books will give Volkswagen an extra boost of motivation. Victory in Portugal would see the team from Wolfsburg equal a record currently held by WRC rival Citroën. The longest winning run by any manufacturer in the World Rally Championship dates back to 2011, when record World Champion Sébastien Loeb and his team-mate at the time Sébastien Ogier were unbeatable from Mexico through to Germany: eight victories in a row. Volkswagen is proud to be second in the list of winning runs, with seven consecutive triumphs. In 2013, the winners’ trophies from Australia, France, Spain and Great Britain all went to the Wolfsburg-based manufacturer. They were immediately followed by victories at the opening three rounds of the 2014 season, in Monte Carlo, Sweden and Mexico. Having contested just 16 WRC rallies with the Polo R WRC, Volkswagen already has 23 podiums to its name.

Quotes ahead of the Rally Portugal

Sébastien Ogier, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #1
“Portugal is definitely one of my favourite rallies on the calendar. It was here that I claimed my maiden win in the WRC in 2010, and Julien and I have won here three times in the last four years. With that in mind, we arrive at the fourth round of the World Championship full of confidence. The Rally Portugal certainly has two faces: when it is dry, the surface is very hard and offers a lot of grip. When it rains, however, the ground becomes very soft and muddy, giving you very little traction. I normally much prefer it when it is dry. However, we are first onto the route this time, so a little rain on the first day would not be bad for us.”

Jari-Matti Latvala, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #2
“I have never made such a good start to a season – 60 points from three rallies and just three points behind the World Championship leader, my team-mate Sébastien Ogier. Last year I finished third at the Rally Portugal to claim my first podium with Volkswagen. In the past it has been a difficult rally for me. However, that 2013 result has given me a lot of confidence. I am looking forward to the rally and have a good feeling about it. We spent two days testing near to the special stages in Portugal. The conditions were typical for Portugal: dry, about 20 degrees Celsius, and on gravel roads with corners that are hard to see. I hope it will remain that way during the rally. It is usually dry in Portugal, but we have also had a few rainy events in the past. I have a completely different feel for the Polo R WRC this year. We have a well-oiled basic set-up and it is just a matter of making detailed improvements. As has so often been the case over the last ten years, my birthday falls on a rally weekend. As such, I am used to not partying too hard. Instead, it is a time for working hard. However, I am really looking forward to it, and would like to give myself a present in the form of a top-three finish.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Volkswagen Polo R WRC #9
“Last year Portugal was my first rally with the Polo R WRC, and sixth place was a good result for Mikko and me. It is nice to return here with Volkswagen. The Rally Portugal is known for its corners, which are often hard to see. On top of that, it is constantly uphill and downhill. That makes it a very attractive rally, but also a very difficult one for the drivers. For this reason, the Recce will be very important, in order to acclimatise to the layout. There is one completely new special stage compared to last year. Other sections have just been altered a little or are run in the opposite direction to 2013. We have taken a step forward since last season. We now have the speed to mix it with the front-runners. However, it is important for me to work on my consistency. The goal for the coming events is to pick up some more podiums.”

Did you know …

… the 2013 Rally Portugal marked the first time in the history of the WRC that two Volkswagen drivers had stood side by side on the podium? Sébastien Ogier/Julien Ingrassia (F/F) were victorious, while Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) took third place.

… the third Polo R WRC, with Andreas Mikkelsen/Mikko Markkula in the cockpit (N/FIN), lined up for the first time at last year’s Rally Portugal? The duo was more than happy with its sixth place.

… the most successful driver in the history of the Rally Portugal comes from Finland? Markku Alén won the rally on five occasions (1975, 1977, 1978, 1981 and 1987). By the way: 13 of the 34 winners of the Rally Portugal were Finns.

… the rally moved location in 2007? After five years away from the World Rally Championship, the rally moved from the north of Portugal to the south – from Porto to the area around Faro, the capital of the Algarve region.

… the Rally Portugal used to consist of a mixture of asphalt and gravel stages? Since it moved to the Faro region in 2007, the event has been an all-gravel rally.

… Volkswagen Motorsport Ambassador Luís Moya (E) won the Rally Portugal twice in his career? He triumphed in 1991 as the co-driver in a Toyota Celica and in 1995 in the passenger seat of a Subaru Impreza. The driver on both occasions was Carlos Sainz (E), who won the Rally Dakar with Volkswagen in 2010.

… the Polo R WRC was not the first Volkswagen Motorsport rally car to finish in the top three at the Rally Portugal? Kenneth Eriksson/Peter Diekmann (S/D) finished third in a Golf GTI 16V in 1987.

… Volkswagen’s subsidiary Audi claimed a hat-trick of Rally Portugal wins in the 1980s? Michèle Mouton/Fabrizia Pons (F/I) were victorious for the Ingolstadt-based manufacturer in 1982, while Hannu Mikkola/Arne Hertz (FIN/S) triumphed in 1983 and 1984.

… the Rally Portugal has been named “Best Rally in the World” five times in the past?

The number for the Rally Portugal: 74.8

Sébastien Ogier generated a top braking pressure of 74.8 bar in the Polo R WRC at the recent Rally Mexico. That is the equivalent of the kind of atmospheric pressure you would experience at 748 metres underwater – too much for the design of most modern submarines.

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