Twenty-seventeen sees this event celebrate the fifteenth ever Rallye de Portugal. There are a few changes to the stages this year, but on the whole the event will be very similar to last years.
During their part season last year, Kris and Paul won this rally, and he’ll be looking to come here and get a solid result, having retired from the last two rounds. Tour de Corse was a big let-down, after a win slipped away with a mechanical problem. In Argentina, it was two rolls that saw him not finish. Meantime, Seb and Thierry have been racking up the points, but its Thierry who is on a roll, having won twice now in a row. Seb will want to be on the podium and will have to work closely with M-Sport to understand what caused him so many problems in Argentina.
At this event, Citroen will be running four C3 WRC cars. They will be piloted by, Kris, Craig, Stephane and Khalid. Also, Toyota will be running a third car for the first time. Driving this car will be the young Finn Esapekka Lappi who is a promising talent.
Here’s the thoughts of the drivers ahead of this true classic.
Citroen Abu Dhabi WRT
“Argentina was wild – nothing went as planned. It happens sometimes, you just have to put it behind you. I feel okay ahead of Portugal, although I can’t say I’m overflowing with confidence. I think that the work done in our recent test sessions will help us move in the right direction. I’m pleased to be competing at this rally. Obviously, I have some fond memories of winning here in 2016. And the enthusiasm of the fans here for our sport makes for a very special atmosphere. Quite a lot of changes have been made to the course, so in a lot of cases we’ll have to start from scratch with the pace notes. Concentration will therefore be key in recce, as well as in the rally.”
“Just like in Argentina, I’m venturing into something of the unknown here. I did recce here in 2016, but that’s no substitute for actual racing experience. I know that I have to improve on this kind of surface, where I’m a little be less at home than on the fast gravel roads you get in Poland or Finland. The testing done this week in Sardinia was positive. We kept working on certain points, taking into account the things we learned in Argentina. The Citroën C3 WRC will be even better in Portugal!”
“Unlike the previous few rounds, I feel I know this rally pretty well. Having competed once here in an R5 and once in a WRC, I have good experience on these roads. When they are wide and fast, the stages are magnificent. I really like Amarante, the longest stage of the rally. I’m also almost certain to have a good position in the running order on day one and I’m hoping to make the most of it!”
Khalid Al Qassimi
“After more than six months away from the WRC, I have to prepare very carefully for Rally de Portugal. It will be my first outing in the new Citroën C3 WRC and I know that it is a real step up compared with the cars used in previous seasons. My aim will be to build my confidence gradually, without taking any big risks. I’m delighted to be taking part in what is one of my favourite rallies. The atmosphere is always very special. The Portuguese fans are very loud and enthusiastic, especially next to the Fafe jump!”
Sébastien Ogier said:
“Rally de Portugal is an event that I look forward to every year. Julien and I have had a lot of success there and it was where we took our first victory so it holds a lot of special memories.
“It’s a country with a real passion and enthusiasm for motorsport, and the atmosphere that the fans generate is something quite unique. As a driver, you always want to do well in those conditions, and we will push the limits to challenge for the win.
“The competition is even closer this year and every team has a chance of victory. Opening the road on the first day will probably make it harder for us, but we come to Portugal with high objectives and a focus on increasing our championship lead once again.
“We’ve done a lot of testing in Portugal over the past couple of months and done some further development work on the car – that’s definitely a confidence booster ahead of this rally.”
Ott Tänak said:
“Rally de Portugal starts a series of gravel events that I’m really looking forward to. I’ve always enjoyed the Portuguese roads and we’ve shown good speed there in the past.
“I feel as though we’ve developed a lot recently and should be looking towards the podium at every gravel event to come. That has to be our goal in Portugal and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do.
“The stages are generally quite technical and twisty with a lot of blind corners and crests, but then there are stages like Fafe – a really enjoyable and fast stage where you can really feel the passion of the fans.
“With the competition, so close at the moment, we’ll need to be fully focused and at the top of our game if we want to deliver another strong result. That’s certainly our aim and we’ll be giving it our all as always.”
Elfyn Evans said:
“We’ve always had pretty good pace in Portugal, but for various reasons we’ve not been able to translate that into a strong result. After coming so close to victory in Argentina, our confidence is high and I think we’re in a good position to deliver a strong result next week.
“The whole package worked really well in Argentina and the hope will be to continue that in Portugal. A lot will depend on the weather, but the surface isn’t too dissimilar and the soft roads have the potential to become quite rough and rutted over the second pass.
“If we’re to challenge for another strong result we’re going to have to be at the top of our game. We’ll need to get into a good rhythm early on and find our confidence through the stages. If we can do that, anything is possible.”
Hayden Paddon commented:
“It’s not been the season that we expected or wanted to have so far. Argentina was a bit of a low, especially when contrasted with our win there last season, so I hope Portugal will be the place where fortunes change. Unfortunately, John will not be co-driving at this event after aggravating an existing hip condition but it’s good he will still be present in Portugal with the team. Thanks to Seb for stepping in at an event he knows from last season. It’s a rally with a special atmosphere. There are a lot of passionate people there who love rallying. For us to be able to go out there and compete in front of those crowds is an incredible sensation. We’ll work hard to get a good result and kick-start my season.”
Thierry Neuville said:
“We are still on a high after the results of Corsica and Argentina. At the same time, we know we have to stay focused and concentrated on our job because the Championship is incredibly close. We saw with the margin to Elfyn in Argentina, one of the smallest in WRC history, that we can take nothing for granted. Rally Portugal in its current format is still a bit of a new one for us, having only been in the north of the country for the last two seasons. It is quite a tricky event, but I am looking forward to it. I am sure that with this new car and with the confidence we have, we can be fast.”
Dani Sordo said:
“Portugal is always a really special event for me because it takes place so close to Spain. There is a lot of support from the crowds, which gives us a real boost. There are a lot of Portuguese people on the team as well, so it’s a really great rally for us all. We really can feel that crowd cheering us on, especially through famous sections like the Fafe jump. Hopefully we will be able to give them something extra special to cheer about by Sunday. After the disappointment of Argentina, I am determined to get back onto podium-challenging pace and to get the full potential out of our Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC on these fun stages.”
Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT
“What I learned in Argentina is that the first day is very important; you really want to try and be in the top five so that you can have a good road position for the following day. So that will be my objective in Portugal, and if the weather is bad on the first day, my position of second on the road could actually help me – as the road conditions behind might deteriorate. Before the rally, we tested a few things, trying out some dampers and also experimenting with the ride height, so that we can perform to the maximum of our potential in rough conditions as well.”
“I tested when the weather was still OK: it was quite warm, and we were able to try a few new things with suspension and differentials. Although I’ve done Rally Portugal before, this is actually my first time on the stages in the north. I like these stages, but from what I can see there could be a lot of road cleaning, so hopefully my road position might help me. Portugal is a bit like Argentina, only not as rough, so I think we can use many of the lessons that we learned there to make more progress. The second run through the stages might be a bit tricky, so we will need to be careful.”
“I’ve been able to test before the rally in Portugal, which has given me a good taste of some future development directions, but these may not be the conditions we experience when it comes to the actual competition. It’s obviously very exciting for me to be starting my first rally in the Yaris WRC: the opportunity I’ve been waiting for all of my life. But this is team effort, and my role is to collect as much data as possible for the team to develop the car further. The most important thing is to finish: never easy on such a challenging event like Portugal. For my own experience too, I need to make sure that I do all the stages, so we’re going to take a very calm and focussed approach to the rally.”
Mads Østberg says:
I think there were quite a few among the factory guys taken by a bit of surprise by our speed especially the first day in Argentina. We had found a good setup for the car, despite limited testing, and I felt confident and motivated. I have the same feeling before Portugal and aim to fight for top positions. I am really looking forward to the rally here in Portugal. It’s a classical and very demanding rally and the atmosphere with all the spectators is brilliant.
This year there are nineteen stages, with the road having a soft sand covering and then after the first pass through a bit rocky afterwards.
THURSDAY 18 MAY
7.30am: Shakedown (Paredes)
6.10pm: Start (Guimaraes)
7.03pm: SS1 – Lousada (3.36km)
8.00pm: Parc ferme (Exponor)
FRIDAY 19 MAY
8.40am: Service A (Exponor – 19 min)
10.09am: SS2 – Viana do Castelo 1 (26.70km)
11.06am: SS3 – Caminha 1 (18.10km)
11.46am: SS4 – Ponte de Lima 1 (27.46km)
2.25pm: Service B (Exponor – 34 mins)
4.09pm: SS5 – Viana do Castelo 2 (26.70km)
5.06pm: SS6 – Caminha 2 (18.10km)
5.46pm: SS7 – Ponte de Lima 2 (27.46km)
7.03pm: SS8 – Braga Street Stage 1 (1.90km)
7.28pm: SS9 – Braga Street Stage 2 (1.90km)
8.40pm: Service C (Exponor – 49 mins)
SATURDAY 20 MAY
7.15am: Service D (Exponor – 19 mins)
9.08am: SS10 – Vieira do Minho 1 (17.43km)
9.46am: SS11 – Cabeceiras de Basto 1 (22.30km)
11.04am: SS12 – Amarante 1 (37.55km)
1.00pm: Service E (Exponor – 34 mins)
3.08pm: SS13 – Vieira do Minho 2 (17.43km)
3.46pm: SS14 – Cabeceiras de Basto 2 (22.30km)
5.04pm: SS15 – Amarante 2 (37.55km)
6.55pm: Service F (Exponor – 49 mins)
SUNDAY 21 MAY
7.35am: Service G (Exponor – 19 mins)
9.08am: SS16 – Fafe 1 (11.18km)
9.30am: SS17 – Luilhas (11.91km)
10.20am: SS18 – Montim (8.66km)
12.18pm: SS19 – Power Stage Fafe 2 (11.18km)
1.50pm: Service H (Exponor – 14 mins)
Well, can Kris get his season back on track and score some decent points this weekend? Will Thierry win again, or maybe one of the other Hyundai drivers? Hayden will have Seb Marshall along him for the first time, as John Kennard sits out this one because of a problem caused by the rough stages in Argentina.
Some very interesting news to let you know about. Mads Østberg will be running on D-Mack tyres this weekend after switching from Michelins.
How will Esapekka Lappi’s debut go? So many questions to be answered. Let’s enjoy it!
Warren Nel, WRC editor