Rally de Portugal 2022 Preview, Round Four – Return to Gravel!

Time to unleash these new Rally1 cars on gravel and what a place to do it with an iconic rally and one of the all-time great events, which is going to be run this year for the fifty-fifth time.

This year there will be 338km over 21 stages. Returning to the top cars are Seb Loeb and Seb Ogier, and with the two most successful drivers returning, you have to consider that they will challenge at the top of the standings, especially given their starting positions.

Let’s take a look then at the stages.

Rally de Portugal begins on Thursday evening with a single super special stage: Coimbra (2.82km)

Friday’s running consists of two loops of Lousã (12.03km), Góis (19.33km) and Arganil (18.72km) followed by a single pass each of Mortágua (18.15km) and the Lousada super special (3.36km)

Saturday is the longest day of the event, with its seven stages totalling 164.98km. It also contains the longest individual test in Amarante (37.24km), which the crews must tackle twice

The Sunday itinerary boasts five stages, including two passes of the Fafe stage and its famous jump. The second pass of Fafe (11.18km) will offer additional points, acting as the rally’s Power Stage.

Let’s hear from the drivers

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Kalle Rovanperä

“The feeling with the new car on gravel has been quite good overall, especially in our pre-event test last week with some improvements made from before. Portugal is a rally that I usually like; the stages are nice and technical and there is a great atmosphere. For us, the road-cleaning will probably be the biggest challenge, especially as it’s something quite new for us. Friday could be much more important than on other rallies and we will try to be at a good pace straightaway to remain in contention for the rest of the weekend. The key thing in these next rallies will be to just try to keep calm and focus on doing a good job, without taking too much pressure or making mistakes, and keep taking good points where we can.”

Elfyn Evans

“As with a lot of rallies this year, it’s difficult to know how we will fare against the competition in our first event on gravel with the Rally1 cars, but the feeling in testing last week was generally quite positive. Portugal is a rally I’ve enjoyed more and more as the years have gone on, and it was great to win there last year. We could definitely do with a strong result on this occasion too and that will be the aim like always. With a run of gravel events coming up, hopefully we can hit the ground running in Portugal and then carry some momentum forwards. If it’s dry then our road position should be favourable, but that’s not an automatic ticket to a good result and there’s still a lot to focus on and to get right in order to make the most of it, especially as everyone tries to get comfortable in these cars.”

Sébastien Ogier

“I’m excited to be back competing in Portugal. I’ve really enjoyed having some time off and now I feel quite fresh coming back. I’m of course happy to see the team has continued winning in the last couple of rallies, and I’m here not only to enjoy it and get some good results for myself but also to help win another manufacturers’ title. Portugal is a special place for me: I have a good connection with the country and the fans and have had some good success there over the years. It will be something different for me to not be starting near the front and hopefully that can be a bit of an advantage if it doesn’t rain. The biggest challenge will be getting back in the rhythm straightaway after only one test day on gravel last week. But at the same time, these cars are new for everyone on gravel, so let’s see what we can do.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally de Portugal is very exciting event for us competitors; there are always huge crowds of fans and a great atmosphere. The stages are enjoyable yet challenging. This is mainly due to the high temperatures, so tyre wear is important here as well, and it can be quite rough on the second pass of the stage. It’s going to be our first gravel event with the new hybrid cars; we saw in Sweden on the gravel set-up in the snow that the car was fast and we hope that we are going to be strong on this surface.”

Ott Tänak

“Portugal is a very fun rally to drive, and one that I really enjoy. It’s the first time this year we are competing on gravel, so this will be our first indicator of how competitive we are. Portugal is fast with a rather soft surface, and the second loop of the stages can be tough and demanding after the first pass. You need good reliability as well as speed here to be successful. Martin and I know what it takes to win in Portugal; we hope that the momentum from our podium last time out in Croatia will continue with a good result next weekend.”

2021 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 04, Rally de Portugal
20-23 May 2021
Ott Tanak, Martin Jarveoja, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Dufour Fabien
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Dani Sordo

“Portugal is always really nice, so I am very happy that this will be my first event of the season, as I’ve scored a podium here twice in the past with Hyundai. There are normally a lot of spectators who travel from my home of Spain and the crowds have always been fantastic. I’m excited to drive the car on gravel for the first time. I’m hoping to have a good rhythm with the car and adapt myself quickly to this new challenge. It won’t be easy as the other drivers have done three rallies already so I hope the feeling for the car comes quickly.

Oliver Solberg

“It’s cool to be back again after last year – we had a couple of issues that stopped us getting a great result, but won a couple of stages and I enjoyed the rally! This year will be very tricky with so many quality WRC2 cars – over 40 – but we prepared well in the test and will be pushing for a top result. It’s also cool to have the new all black livery and show off my partners with such a nice design so that’s a nice thing this weekend too.”

Photo credit Oliver Solberg

M-Sport Ford WRT

Sebastien Loeb

“The first feeling in the Puma on gravel at our test was quite good, I was quite happy with the feeling I had as we worked on the suspension and the differential setups. Only one day of testing isn’t a lot when it’s the first time you are driving a car on gravel, but at the end I was happy with the feeling I had.

“My goal will be to find a rhythm as quickly as possible, hopefully I will be in a good rhythm to fight at the front, if I could be not far from the podium that would be a good performance. The challenges of Rally de Portugal for me will be that I am fourth on the road, road cleaning is always a challenge in this kind of rally if it is dry. I don’t really know what to expect there so we need to do a good first day, and for the rest we will see where we are.”

Craig Breen

“I am looking forward to Portugal, it’s a rally that I haven’t done for several years, I think it was 2018 the last time I did it. After the first three rallies, they were all a bit unique in their own way, so looking forward to seeing what the pace of the Puma will be in Portugal.

“We had a good test, I felt good in the car and we got some good work done. I am looking forward to discovering the rally, there are a lot of new stages and some changes since the last time I was there, so it will be interesting. I’d like to have a bit more speed than what we showed in Croatia, so we’ll be working as hard as we can to make that possible.”

Gus Greensmith

“I am really looking forward to Portugal, it is without doubt my favourite rally and the first rally I did overseas. I’ve got a lot of fond memories of this rally, it will be my seventh time doing the rally, so I’ve got lots of experience here.

“I feel like I’m in the right place at the right time with the car, co-driver and everything. There’s no pressure this weekend as I’m not scoring any manufacturer points so I’m just here to enjoy myself. Usually when I enjoy myself, things go well, so that’s the plan.”

Adrien Fourmaux

“This will be my second time in Portugal, and I had a good feeling last year with the WRC car, so I am looking forward to getting out in the Puma and see how it goes. It is a really nice event, the spectators are great and it’s a fantastic atmosphere.

“We are looking forward to all the gravel events coming up, there are quite a few ahead of us now, so we’re really excited to get going in Portugal and hoping for a good result for the team.”

Pierre-Louis Loubet

“Portugal has always been my favourite rally in the past, it’s where I have had some of my best results. It was my first ever WRC event, when I was only 18, so I’m looking forward to it and hope it will be a strong second event for us this season.

“We were happy with our pace in Croatia, and we’re hoping that with the same pace, and no punctures, it will go well and we can hope for a good result.”

 

Summary

Well, we are set for another spectacular rally on the Portuguese stages, and really any of the top drivers could take victory. The two Seb’s will be well placed to challenge just because of their stating position on Friday, whilst Elfyn, Craig and Ott will be targeting victory to get their championship challenges really underway. We shall get our first idea of the crews that have the pace to take stage wins and challenge at the top when shakedown is over. All the teams have been testing and preparing for the challenge ahead, and we know that championships are won with good consistent results and if a victory is up for grabs, being in there to take it.

Enjoy and pop back at the end of Friday for my first day report!

Rally de Portugal Preview 2021

After missing out on the roads in Portugal last year, round four sees the first of four gravel events in a row and will have a big say in the destination of this season’s crown. When this event last ran in 2019 Ott took a good win from Thierry, whilst Seb was third with Citroen at the time.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 07 / Rally Portugal / 30th May – 2nd June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Now here are the details of the stages.

After shakedown on Thursday, the 2021 Rally de Portugal will open with a ceremonial start in Coimbra.

Friday features two loops of Lousã (12.35km), Góis (19.51km) and Arganil (18.82km), separated by a tyre fitting zone, followed by Mortágua (18.16km) and the Lousada super special (3.36km).

Saturday features over 165km of rally action. Crews will complete two passes of Vieira do Minho (20.64km), Cabeceiras de Basto (22.37km) and Amarante (37.92km) – the longest individual stage of the rally – before the Porto Foz super special (3.30km).

The Sunday comprises five stages: two runs of Felguieras (9.18km) and Fafe (11.18km) with just a single pass of Montim (8.75km).

 

Thursday May 20
Shakedown 4.60km (2.85 miles) 1030
Ceremonial Start Coimbra 2030

Friday May 21
SS1 Lousã 1 12.35 kilometres (7.67 miles) 0808
SS2 Góis 1 19.51 kilometres (12.12 miles) 0908
SS3 Arganil 1 18.82 kilometres (11.69 miles) 1008
Regroup Arganil 1043
SS4 Lousã 2 12.35 kilometres (7.67 miles) 1231
SS5 Góis 2 19.51 kilometres (12.12 miles) 1331
SS6 Arganil 2 18.82 kilometres (11.69 miles) 1438
SS7 Mortágua 18.16 kilometres (11.28 miles) 1605
SS8 Lousada SSS 3.36 kilometres (2.08 miles) 1903
Service Exponor 1950

Saturday May 22
SS9 Vieira do Minho 1 20.64 kilometres (12.82 miles) 0808
SS10 Cabeceiras de Basto 1 22.37 kilometres (13.90 miles) 0908
SS11 Amarante 1 37.92 kilometres (23.56 miles) 1024
Service Exponor 1205
SS12 Vieira do Minho 2 20.64 kilometres (12.82 miles) 1438
SS13 Cabeceiras de Basto 2 22.37 kilometres (13.90miles) 1538
SS14 Amarante 2 37.92 kilometres (23.56 miles) 1654
SS15 Porto-Foz SSS 3.30 kilometres (2.05 miles) 1903
Service Exponor 1923

Sunday May 23
SS16 Felgueiras 1 9.18 kilometres (5.70 miles) 0708
SS17 Montim 8.75 kilometres (5.43 miles) 0753
SS18 Fafe 1 11.18 kilometres (6.94 miles) 0838
SS19 Felgueiras 2 9.18 kilometres (5.70 miles) 1004
Fafe Regroup 1033
SS20 Fafe 2 11.18 kilometres (6.94 miles) 1218
Finish Matosinhos 1420

Let’s hear from the drivers.

FIA World Rally Championship 2019 / Round 07 / Rally Portugal / 30th May – 2nd June, 2019 // Worldwide Copyright: Toyota Gazoo Racing WRC

Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Sébastien Ogier

“It’s great to be going back to Portugal. It’s one of the most special rallies for me personally: It was where I achieved my first WRC victory in 2010, and we have had several wins since then as well. Portugal is also a country where there is a huge passion for motorsport and especially rallying, and we always have fantastic support there. This time, we know we will probably have to face tough conditions opening the road, but Portugal is a place where we can have rain at this time of year, and that is always what you hope for in this situation. We actually had pretty wet conditions during my pre-event test day. It means I haven’t yet driven the new Pirelli gravel tyres so much in dry conditions, and we know that being clever with the tyre choice and managing them as well as possible is going to be an important part of this rally.”

Elfyn Evans

“Portugal is always a nice event and I’m looking forward to going back there for the first gravel rally of the year. We have had four very different events to start the season and almost four different surfaces to contend with. As on the previous rounds, we will again be getting used to the new tyres in Portugal. Everything felt good in the pre-event test, but one consideration is that we won’t have as many soft tyres to use during the rally as in previous years, and that could affect how we make our tyre choices over the weekend. It’s been quite a while since the last gravel rally in Sardinia last year, so it’s hard to predict how it will go, but we’ll be there to give it our best shot like always.”

Kalle Rovanperä

“After our retirement in Croatia it was nice to be back in the car just a few days later for our pre-event test in Portugal. It actually took some time to get back into the feeling – just because it had been so long since I had last driven on gravel. Overall, though I left with a good feeling from the car and from the new gravel tyres. I am excited to go to Portugal and compete on gravel again. I think it is an event that can suit me quite well, and I enjoyed it last time I was there in 2019 and we won our category. After Croatia, I think my approach will be a bit more sensible, but hopefully we can find a good speed straight away and fight for a good result.”

Hyundai Motorsport

Thierry Neuville

“Rally de Portugal has always been a highlight in the WRC calendar, especially its atmosphere. We usually have hundreds of thousands of spectators on the stages as well as the famous Fafe stage on Sunday. Obviously, this year the situation could be different, but the stages are still looking great. It is going to be challenging and long rally. There is a lot of mileage to do and at the end there will be only one winner, so we have to be on top form to put ourselves in contention for victory.”

2019 FIA World Rally Championship
Round 07 Rally de Portugal
30 may – 02 June 2019
Portrait, Day 2, Thierry Neuville, Nicolas Gilsoul, Hyundai i20 Coupe WRC
Photographer: Fabien Dufour
Worldwide copyright: Hyundai Motorsport GmbH

Ott Tänak

“We have been busy preparing for our first gravel event of the season. Our aim is to bounce back after a tricky and unrepresentative weekend in Croatia. Portugal generally has soft and sandy roads; it can get quite rough on the second loop as the gravel becomes increasingly disturbed as each car passes through. The Fafe stage on Sunday is very specific and demanding, but it is one of the stages we all look forward to. Altogether, it is a tricky event, but we are more than ready to tackle it head-on.”

Dani Sordo

“Portugal is always special for me because it is so close to Spain. I really like the roads and the ambience. In previous years, I have always enjoyed an extra boost from the many spectators lining the stages. It is unlikely to be quite the same this year, due to the circumstances, but I am pleased we have the chance to compete in any case. I am excited to return to Portugal. I like the stages; they have a little bit more grip, although Fafe is quite slippery. We are set for an exciting weekend.”

Ole Christian Veiby

“I’ve always enjoyed Rally de Portugal, it’s both fast and rough, and the atmosphere is normally incredible. I have many good memories from the rally, and I have been quick there before. Winning at Rali Terras d’Aboboreira was a great start for the preparations ahead of Rally de Portugal. It’s been nearly eight months since we last time competed on gravel, so it was good to get some mileage on stages similar to what we will have for the rally. It’s always helpful to get a feeling of the speed, to find the pace. I’m looking forward to compete together with Oliver for the first time – it’s good to finally have him onboard with us!”

Oliver Solberg

“Rally de Portugal will be very exciting. It’s a really cool event, one I’ve always dreamed about doing. It’s a classic and a big part of the history of WRC. It has many famous stages and the Fafe jump is very special. It’s fantastic that we might have some spectators back and get some proper emotions and atmosphere on the stages. It will be my first time with the Hyundai i20 R5 on gravel as well as our first event for WRC 2, which will hopefully be a lot of fun.”

“Being in the WRC2 race is something else which is cool for this event. I watched the fight on the last few events and it’s really close with some incredible drivers in there. Like I said, it’s my first time driving the Hyundai i20 R5 on gravel, so let’s see what we can do.

M-Sport Ford WRT

Gus Greensmith

“When I look at this rally, I think more to how I enjoy being behind the wheel rather than how tough the rally actually is. It’s pretty cool to come to a country that loves rallying so much and it’s the event of the season that I look forward to the most because of this.

“It’s the first event I’ve done before in a WRC car so it’s the first event I can draw experience from. You want a car that can generate the grip and find the traction on the first pass, which tends to be quite loose, but then also has the stability on the second pass when the base of the road becomes quite hard and rough.

“I always set myself targets and a top five is realistic. We would have finished fifth in Croatia until the unfortunate technical issue meant we lost time. But it was a good step forward and I want to make the same step again in Portugal, particularly following the co-driver change, which was a positive from Croatia. But to achieve a top five at this level everything has to be done right and I can’t be making any mistakes, so that’s the focus.”

Adrien Fourmaux  

“I’m just really happy and really excited to start, like I have been since Rich told me I would be doing this rally. I was here as a spectator in 2019 but this will be my first time competing on this rally and I know it will be a big challenge. But I hope to have a good pace and enjoy all the week, like I did in Croatia.

“I have no big expectations, it’s the same goal as Croatia. The top six or top seven with good pace on some stages and some top-five times would be a good result for me. I am quite confident for this, but I am still learning. My favourite surface is gravel and I have done some good rallies on gravel, including Rally GB in 2019 when I finished second in WRC2.

“For my preparation I have been watching a lot of videos from the last few years on WRC Plus. It looks quite rough in some places with a lot of rocks on the road for the second pass. The first pass looks sandy on some stages, really soft gravel. But everything looks amazing and I’m sure it’s going to be a really nice rally. And, of course, the jump of Fafe is one of the most famous jumps of the season for sure.”

Teemu Suninen

“It’s quite a tricky rally and on the rough side. If it’s really warm and we are running further back on the starting list, we might see quite a lot of aggressive bedrock, which is hard for the tyres and something we have to manage. Still, it’s not too rough for the cars, so basically, we have to go flat out but keeping in mind the tyres.

“My memories of Portugal are good. I started my first world championship rally not in Finland in Portugal and it’s always been one of my favourite rallies, where I have some good results.

“If we have good pace I am going to go for the win if there is any chance. The main thing is to bring good results for the car and try to get more podiums for the team and for me. WRC2 is very competitive this season with a lot of good drivers and I am really looking forward to the challenge. I can beat these drivers and have beaten them, but everything is possible. We just need to have really, really good rally to get a podium.”

 

Summary

We are set then for a very challenging rally, with the top drivers in the world. Road position will be key to the chances of the likely winner, which means that we need to look at Hyundai teammates Thierry and Ott as possible winners given their positions in the standings. Thierry will want to be comfortable in his i20 so that he can express the speed that we know that he has. If Ott can also get the car to how he wants it, then he will also be on the pace, and we know what that means. Both have their new contracts with the team, which gives them stability for the future.

At Toyota, Elfyn will hope that his position in the championship standings will give him the opportunity to push for a podium finish and perhaps even victory. Although Seb will be opening the road, he’ll have an eye on a good finishing position in the points and power stage points on Sunday. Kalle will want to get a finish after his early exit in Croatia last time out.

The two youngsters at M-Sport will be looking to gain good experience for the future. They will want to show good pace when they are comfortable, and it will be interesting to see which of them comes out ahead, whilst Teemu will be competing in the WRC2 category and biding his time till he gets to compete at the top level again.

Elsewhere there are other drivers competing, with Chris Ingram continuing his WRC3 program with Rally Warrior, and Esapekka Lappi also competing in a Skoda Fabia WRC2. Well worth keeping an eye out for their progress.

 

You can follow all the live action on WRC Plus and pop back for my full stage by stage review in the week following the event for anything that you might miss. Enjoy!

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