The second successive three week gap separates World Rally Championship rallies, this time between the all asphalt Tour de Corse and the all gravel sixth round, the Rally of Portugal.
At this point the 2018 world championship season is settling down, as Portugal is the second of four successive gravel stage events, and all the remaining WRC events except for the final round will be based in the European region.
Portugal is historically considered one of the championship’s classic qualifying events, having been an event in the first series in 1973. It was first run as the TAP Rally, a personal endeavour of the late Cesar Torres who had been instrumental in shaping the WRC at its outset.
Details released in a provisional entry list published by the organisers of the 2018 Vodafone Rally of Portugal already show a huge entry increase over last year, at a level comparable to last month’s Tour de Corse.
There are 14 World Rally Cars with four entered by Hyundai Motorsport and three from Citroen Racing, including Mads Ostberg. Paddon has been chosen by Hyundai as an official points-scoring driver rather than Sordo.
There are 17 entries in WRC2 and 14 in the Junior WRC. A disappointing non-entry is that of Gaurav Gill who is embarking on a WRC event R5 project sponsored by MRF this year, who is now due to start his campaign on the next rally, in Sardinia.
In all there are 32 R5 cars, a total of 88 cars so far (Corsica had 92 entries of which 87 actually started) compared with 64 starters in Portugal last year. The FIA has still not confirmed their approval to this list.
The route will be run again in the north of the country where rallying has a feverish following among local fans. There are no changes from last year, except for a return of location for the down town street super special from Braga back to Porto (lengthened from 2016, the previous time it was used) and a repeat of one of the final day stages.
Hayden Paddon returns to the WRC in one of four Hyundai i20 WRCs in Portugal.
Thursday sees an early evening start at Guimaraes castle, followed by a super special at the long established Lousada rallycross circuit. Friday sees two loops in the far north of the country close to the Spanish border, followed by two runs in quick succession around the Porto stage.
On Saturday there is a wider loop of two stages to the northeast of the rally headquarters at Matosinho, close to Porto airport. Sunday sees two shorter loops of stages within the area of Saturday’s stages, but closer to Porto.
The Power Stage will be run at the traditional Fafe stage with its spectacularly famous jump. There will be midday service on both Friday and Saturday.
The WRC teams will concentrate on soft compound tyres with hards as the option. Stage surfaces are very different from Argentina where the surface always breaks up, exposing rocks.
Here the surfaces vary considerably between wet and dry weather, and also between the first and second passes, with soft compound tyres preferred in cooler weather, and hards when hotter. If it is dry and dusty, first running driver Ogier should have an advantage
Who will win? Only four WRC drivers entered this year have won here before - Ogier five times, Kris Meeke, Jari-Matti Latvala and Mads Ostberg, in addition to the Portuguese Hyundai R5 driver Armindo Araujo, who won the event three times in years when it did not count as a WRC rally.
Of these drivers the most surprising winner was M-Sport driver Ostberg, who was denied the chance to stand on the top of the podium, and only thanks to Citroen. He learned he had won the 2012 event hours after the event, when celebrating his perceived second place result in a restaurant with his team.
His victory came when Mikko Hirvonen’s Citroen was excluded for clutch ineligibility and complaints concerning the turbocharger. Ostberg is back in Portugal once more and as happened in 2014 and 2015, he is at the wheel of a … Citroen!
Team by TeamCitroen
Eight previous wins, the most successful marque in his event. The team were very happy with their mechanically trouble free run in Argentina, where the cars featured the new rear suspension geometry.
For Portugal there was a five day test in Portugal (two days each for Breen and Meeke, one for Ostberg) and the cars' specification was largely the same as Argentina. Cars for Portugal are his Corsica car for Meeke, Breen has Loeb’s Sweden and Corsica car, while Ostberg has Lefebvre’s 2017 Swedish car.
Lefebvre makes the team’s R5 gravel rally debut, with the car now fitted with different front suspension axle geometry. Former Portuguese champion Jose Pedro Fontes drives another R5.
Thierry Neuville will be aiming to further reduce Sebastien Ogier's WRC lead this weekend.
This is the only anticipated time that the team will enter four WRC cars, intended so that Paddon and Sordo will have an equal number of opportunities to score WRC drivers’ championship points.
No technical changes for this event. Challenges of Portugal are changing conditions between first and second passes and compromise in tyre choices between optimum grip and tyre wear management.
Pre-event tests held in Arganil early May. Mikkelsen and Neuville have their Corsica cars, Sordo has Paddon’s 2017 Sardinia car, and Paddon has Sordo’s Mexico car, while Huttunen has an R5 run by Sarrazin Motorsport.
Five times previous winner Ogier is the most successful current driver on this event. Delay one day for cars being flown back from Argentina and more complications for the team after Alberto Heller crashed his new R5 in Argentina, meaning his Mexico and Argentina car has to be resurrected for Greensmith.
Meanwhile, Ogier awaits the verdict of the FIA Appeal Court concerning the 10 second penalty incurred in Mexico, imposed by Stewards to deprive him of supplemental championship points. Schedule for the verdict is on or before Portugal.
Disappointing Rally Argentina, but each driver had unconnected reasons, but no technical surprises.
Only four days available in Dovenby to rebuild the Argentina Rally cars used by Evans and Suninen, but Ogier uses chassis 9, his Sweden Rally car on this event. Six day test in Portugal, two days for each driver. No technical changes for Portugal.
Great victory for Tanak in Argentina and the main surprise were the number of punctures for Lappi, despite precautions. Precautions were successfully taken to prevent engine overheating as well.
Main technical challenge in Portugal is finding good traction, but no major changes for this event. All three drivers were testing in Portugal two weeks before the event.
This is Latvala’s 11th Portugal rally, which he won in 2015 and had two podiums, and in 2009 he had his spectacular crash when his Focus rolled uncontrolled far down a hillside.
During his seven events here, Tanak has not yet secured a podium, while on his first of three previous entries Lappi won the WRC2 category in 2013.
Toyota cars have had various victories in Portugal, the most recent being Auriol’s win in a Corolla WRC on the non-championship event in 2002.
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