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Fourth rally, fourth first: Volkswagen will line up with three Polo R WRCs for the first time at the Rally Portugal. After a strong debut in the FIA World Rally Championship at January’s Rally Monte Carlo, the Polo R WRC then started its first event on ice and snow at the Rally Sweden in February, before making its first outing on gravel at high altitude at the Rally Mexico.

From 11 to 14 April, the Rally Portugal will provide the stage for another first: Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Markkula (N/FIN) will make their debut in the third Polo R WRC – the number 9 car. They will be joined at the rally on the Algarve coast in southern Portugal by their Volkswagen team-mates: Jari-Matti Latvala/Miikka Anttila (FIN/FIN) and the winners of the rallies in Sweden and Mexico, Sébastien Ogier and Julien Ingrassia (F/F).

“After three completely different rallies at the start of the season, the first ‘typical’ WRC rally awaits us in Portugal,” said Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito. “Tough gravel routes, spring temperatures and – unlike at the Rally Mexico – stages at just above sea level: we will probably come across the same kind of conditions at the coming rallies in Argentina, Greece and Italy. As such, the Rally Portugal provides us with another important indicator of what the Polo R WRC is capable of. Furthermore, we will also send a third driving pair into action at every rally from now on, in the form of Andreas Mikkelsen and Mikko Markkula. Andreas and Mikko have already been very successful in the Intercontinental Rally Challenge, and are now deservedly taking the next step into the pinnacle of rallying.”

Volkswagen Motorsport II: new team for Mikkelsen/Markkula

In order to offer Mikkelsen and Markkula the best possible conditions for a successful debut season in the Polo R WRC in the FIA World Rally Championship, Volkswagen will operate a second team from the Rally Portugal onward: Volkswagen Motorsport II. This will, for example, allow the Norwegian-Finnish duo to have access to ten test days this year, rather than having to share this contingent with their team-mates.

All three pairs of drivers arrive at the fourth round of the FIA World Rally Championship season as well prepared as possible. Each crew spent two days in Portugal at the end of March, adapting to the specific demands of the second gravel rally of the year, which will see the drivers complete 386.73 kilometres against the clock over the course of 15 special stages.

Spectator stage in Lisbon provides spectacular highlight

An exciting rally weekend gets underway with qualifying on Tuesday morning, when the WRC drivers will battle it out for the right to choose their start position on day one. The first four special stages consist of two runs of both the “Mú” and “Ourique” stages on Friday morning, before a 200-kilometre liaison stage takes the competitors to Lisbon. Once in the Portuguese capital, the drivers will take on a spectacular spectator stage against the imposing backdrop of the National Archaeology Museum. The “Mosteiro dos Jerónimos” is one of the most important examples of architecture in Portugal and was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983.

The longest leg of the Rally Portugal is Saturday, with six special stages covering 158.74 kilometres over countless jumps on winding gravel routes along the Algarve coast. As at the Rally Mexico, the drivers must wait until Sunday to tackle the longest of all the stages – the 50-kilometre “Almodovar” special stage. When Sunday comes around, however, they will take on this monster stage not once, but twice, with the second run also forming the final Power Stage. Nowhere else do the drivers have to work harder to earn the bonus world championship points on offer for first, second and third place.

Andreas Mikkelsen: youngest driver ever to win a WRC point and two-time IRC champion

Andreas Mikkelsen was just 17 when he made his debut in the FIA World Rally Championship. Fifth place at the 2008 Rally Sweden when just 17 years and 233 days old earned the Norwegian a place in the rallying history books as the youngest driver ever to win a World Championship point. In the same year, Mikkelsen worked with two-time World Rally Champion Marcus Grönholm to improve his driving style. This proved to be a successful move: after claiming first place in the 2009 Norwegian Rally Championship, Mikkelsen burst onto the international stage when he won the 2011 Intercontinental Rally Challenge (IRC) at the wheel of a Škoda Fabia S2000. As well as successfully defending his IRC title, he also contested eight rounds of the World Championship for Volkswagen Motorsport in 2012.

Mikkelsen’s co-driver Mikko Markkula can also look back on a successful past with Škoda. The Finn claimed his first race win in the IRC alongside compatriot Juho Hänninen in 2009, and went on to win the title the following year. For the last two years, Markkula has narrowly missed out on the IRC title, finishing just behind a fellow Škoda driver on both occasions: Andreas Mikkelsen.
Quotes ahead of the Rally Portugal

Jari-Matti Latvala, Polo R WRC #7

“I have often been quick in Portugal, but my best result so far is the third place I achieved in 2011. I hope I manage to come through clean this year and challenge for a place on the podium. The Polo R WRC certainly has the potential. Sébastien’s victories in Sweden and Mexico have shown that. The first three rounds of the world championship were a bit difficult for me. Unfortunately, not everything went entirely to plan. I just needed time to get used to the car. However, I had the necessary trust in the car on the Power Stage in Mexico – and that good feeling got even stronger during the tests in Portugal. The Rally Portugal is known for its ‘blind crests’, which are really rather special. You really have to be alert as you approach these crests, as you cannot see whether they are followed by a left-hander or a right-hander. For this reason, it is also important to be very accurate during the Recce in the run-up to the rally, to ensure that the pace notes cannot be misunderstood in any way.”

Sébastien Ogier, Polo R WRC #8
“I'm feeling much better now, after illness left me feeling below par last week. Withdrawing from the Fafe Rally Sprint was a very tough decision, especially given all the enthusiastic fans. However, it was the right decision in order to allow me to recover fully. We saw at the Rally Mexico that the Polo R WRC is also competitive on gravel, and that is important. The coming rally in Portugal is another good indication of where we stand, and will be particularly interesting because those will be the kind of conditions we will come up against most often in the World Rally Championship: hard gravel and stages not much above sea level. However, the Rally Portugal has two sides to it. When it is dry there, the ground is very hard and offers a lot of grip. However, when it is wet, the ground becomes very soft and muddy and only offers a very limited amount of grip. We discovered that last year – and it is not particularly fun driving there in those conditions. I much prefer it to be dry. A feature of the special stages in Portugal are the many crests and jumps, which are often followed by quick, blind corners. I am confident that we will follow on from our excellent recent performances in Portugal, as I really like the rally. It is one of my favourite rallies. In 2010 it was the scene of my first victory in the World Rally Championship, and I won again there in 2011. That makes it the only WRC rally that I have won twice in my career – so far.”

Andreas Mikkelsen, Polo R WRC #9
“I can hardly wait for the start of the Rally Portugal. It will be my first rally with the Polo R WRC, although I did have a number of outings with Volkswagen last year and have already been completely integrated in the team. As such, the only thing that is really new to me is the element of competing in a current World Rally Car. After two successful years in the IRC, I feel ready to take the step up into the World Rally Championship. In my opinion, the Rally Portugal is one of the most difficult on the race calendar. There are a lot of ‘blind’ passages and relatively little grip. The last time I drove there was back in 2007, so it will practically be a new event for me. I was lucky enough to be able to take part in the Recce last year. As such, I have some idea of what to expect. Despite this, it will certainly be one of the most difficult rallies of the year for me. It will be important not to make any mistakes and to avoid any incidents. We want to finish the race and learn as much as possible. After that, we can concentrate on getting quicker at the subsequent rallies.”

Three questions for Sven Smeets, WRC Team Manager

What does it mean to the team, to line up with a third Polo R WRC from the Rally Portugal onward – from both a sporting and logistical point of view?
“From a sporting point of view, it is obviously nice to see Andreas back in a World Rally Car after a long break. He initially has different sporting goals to those of Sébastien and Jari-Matti. Portugal, in particular, is practically new territory for him. For Andreas, it will primarily be a matter of gaining experience and completing the rallies wherever possible. Where he feels more confident, he can also show what kind of speed he is capable of. For the team, a third car simply means more material and more work. We have to take more spare parts with us, including an additional spare engine and another gearbox. On top of that comes the equipment for another service place, as well as additional personnel: one engineer and three mechanics. Compared to the first two rallies in Europe, we are now travelling with another truck, which will mainly be loaded with material for Andreas and Mikko’s Polo R WRC.”

Why did Volkswagen not start the rally season with three Polo R WRCs right from the word go, rather than contest the first three rounds of the world championship with just two cars?
“Because of the extra effort that comes with a third car. We wanted to give ourselves enough time to conscientiously run through all the processes involved in a rally weekend – and with a completely new car and, to a certain degree, new drivers. We also wanted to see how the Polo R WRC performed in competitive conditions. Had we discovered a major problem over the course of the first three rallies, we would then have had to solve it on three cars. It goes without saying that this would also have meant extra costs. When it boils down to it, we just wanted to give ourselves a little time to find our feet in the first three months of the season.”

What will be the team’s biggest challenge at the Rally Portugal?
“That depends in no small part on the weather. In the past we have seen that the cars are given quite a tough ride at this rally when it rains. The route becomes very muddy and slippery. However, when it is dry and the roads are in good condition, we will experience a really good gravel rally in Portugal, at which it will all come down to the driver. It is a real drivers’ rally. The closing Power Stage is also over 52 kilometres long. That is extraordinary in itself, and means that the drivers must really earn the extra world championship points.”

The number for the Rally Portugal: 92,160

Being involved in rallying sometimes means being spoilt for choice. For example, the drivers and engineers at Volkswagen have thousands of different possible configurations when working on the set-up of the Polo R WRC. Even just the suspension of the World Rally Car from Wolfsburg offers 92,160 set-up options.

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