Preview: 50th Vodafone Rallye de Portugal 2016 (May 19-22)
- 15th May 2016, 10:27pm
Respected WRC journalist, Martin Holmes, previews the 50th Rallye de Portugal, which gets underway this Thursday.
Welcome back to Europe again, WRC, for your first mainland European event since Monte Carlo, the fifth round of this year's series.
This is the second year that the event has returned to the north of Portugal, perceived as the spiritual home of the event. All except 1.77% of the route is the same as 2015, the major change being the street stage in downtown Porto that will be run twice on the Friday evening in daylight.
Certain other changes will be evident, notably that the WRC and WRC2 teams will be located this year in the grounds of the Porto’s Exponor complex, rather than within the Exponor exhibition halls as last year, giving easier viewing for spectators.
Exponor is well sited for access and suitability and continues Porto’s tradition of running major motorsport events, famous since the days when the Portuguese Formula 1 race was run over the anti-clockwise Boavista circuit, about three kilometres from Exponor.
The only competition on the Thursday will be the super special at the Lousada rallycross course, Friday sees the cars tackle the loops of stages close to the Spanish border around Viana do Castelo, Saturday’s stages are due east from Porto are around Amarante near Vila Real, and Sunday sees two stages near Fafe, each traditional stages tackled twice. All except the Porto stages are on gravel.
With this event hosting the first rounds this year of the WRC-based Junior WRC series and the Drive DMack Fiesta Trophy adding another 21 crews to the number of competitors, a heathy entry of 80 cars has been received, albeit down on last year’s 94 starters.
The entry list is impressive with 19 World Rally Cars, of five different makes, all but five WRC cars being eligible for the manufacturers championship. Twenty five cars are eligible for WRC2, all but two being R5 cars, with another R5 being one of only nine non championship competitors on the entry list.
Now back in Europe till China in just under four months’ time, the teams are co-ordinating their logistical planning in Portugal, with the Rally d’Italia in Sardinia three weeks later.
Technically, the biggest interest in Portugal concerns tyres. Whereas Michelin has nominated their soft compound tyres as their “prime” tyres, alternative suppliers DMack and Pirelli have nominated hard compound tyres as their preferred tyre. There is also interest in the latest activities at DMack, on account of the end of the company’s work with their Chinese suppliers, with a new range of tyres being produced in Europe.
This event is widely considered as where the main world championship each year starts to take a meaningful position. Hyundai is beginning to put pressure on Volkswagen, but M-Sport is struggling to deliver representative performance and Citroen, this year not registered for the manufacturers’ championship, make one of their occasional appearances.
It is in the WRC2 that the entry situation is completely fluid. Leaders are the Fiesta and Fabia R5 cars, with few Peugeots and Citroens, but a pattern as to the driver prospects does not emerge at this time, largely because there are two very different approaches to the championship.
Some drivers are basing their programme on long haul events where entry levels are not high, others concentrate on the European events. It is possible that the leading drivers may hardly ever have competed against each other by the end of the season.
WRC3 is even weirder, as the JWRC calendar embraces events in the WRC3 calendar, so that some WRC3 competitors have concentrated on gaining points on events where the JWRC are not also present.
Three cars this time for Abu Dhabi Total World Rally Team for Meeke (in chassis 17), Lefebvre (8) and Sheikh Khalid (6), an incredible line up of cars that between them have won 15 WRC events, but only Khalid’s car has won before in Portugal. Missing this time will be Breen.
Pre Portugal testing was being carried out the weekend before the rally close to Porto. No decisions yet about future WRC programmes for the drivers, and no specific news about the presentation of the 2017 car, expected to be September or October.
Four cars for this event, for the first time this year that Kevin Abbring has been released from his R5 and 2017 WRC testing work to be able to enter a WRC event personally.
The Manufacturer Shell team entries will be for Paddon in a new NG car (chassis 5) and Sordo (1), while the WRC Mobis team entries are a mixture of an NG car for Neuville (3) and a 2015 car for Abbring (15). Problems about throttle sticking and electronic troubles in Argentina are said to have been sorted.
Pre-Portugal testing was carried out in the north of Portugal last week, in addition to earlier pre-Argentina testing in Portugal for Sordo and Neuville.
Usual cars for Ostberg (chassis 50), Camilli (53) and the DMack team car of Tanak (46). Analysis of Tanak’s car after Argentina showed his alternator problem was caused by a very heavy impact with a culvert that smashed the alternator and damaged the suspension. No recent progress with engine development work, but work on remedying the downshift problems is underway.
News from M–Sport WRC customer Bertelli (again in chassis 47) was that his turbo failure in Argentina caused damaged to the interior of the engine.
Veterans together? M-Sport are also running Henning Solberg on his 122th WRC event at the wheel of the famous old chassis 29 (which was raised from the lake in Mexico last year), which is embarking on its 36th WRC event.
No pre-Portugal testing by the team as this was covered in pre-Argentina testing, but plans are for pre-Rajd Polski tests instead.
R5 news: Elfyn Evans has yet another brand new car for this event. Marius Aasen has a prize drive after his JWRC success last year. Holiday time is planned for Evans: competing in the forthcoming Barbados Rally.
Ogier (chassis 29) and Latvala (30) have their ex-Mexico cars, Mikkelsen has his old uprated 2015 car (31) only used this year previously in Sweden. One day for each driver in testing in north Portugal the week before the rally.
Happy memories of Portugal for VW last year when they finished 1-2-3. No further comments come from the team following the belief that Latvala’s suspension failure when leading in Argentina (the front strut burst through the bodywork) caused his accident or concerning Mikkelsen’s broken gearbox.
There have been curious, but unsubstantiated, reports that the Qatar driver Nasser Al Attiyah has asked to drive a Polo WRC on events in the second half of the season, notwithstanding VW’s frequently confirmed policy that Polo WRCs will only be rallied by the official team drivers.
- Martin Holmes
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