Rally de Portugal (WRC): a spectacular weekend in store

 The 50th Rally de Portugal promises to be a very open contest. The pre-start favourite is Sébastien Ogier (VW/Michelin), but the event’s four-time winner could be penalised by his running order. Jari-Matti Latvala (VW/Michelin) and Kris Meeke (Citroën/Michelin) both have more favourable starting positions. After monopolising the podium in 2015, the VW Polo R WRC/Michelin is likely to play a front-running role again, but expect the Michelin-equipped Hyundai NG i20s and DS3 WRCs to be competitive, too!
Rally de Portugal

After claiming his first world class victory in Portugal in 2010, Ogier has now won this event four times and has a chance to equal the record of five wins held by Markku Alén.

In 2015, he failed to overcome the handicap of running first on the road as the rally returned to the country’s Porto region where the stages tend to be covered in a thick coating of loose gravel. The Frenchman had to settle for second spot after taking numerous risks.

The situation played into the hands of his team-mate Latvala who led a Volkswagen/Michelin one-two-three at the finish. The VW Polo R WRC dominated its rivals on the technically challenging tests and even posted the best three times on the Power Stage.

Looking to stem the German team’s grip this year are the Michelin-equipped Hyundai NG i20 WRCs which proved competitive in Argentina. Hayden Paddon is likely to suffer from being second into the stages this weekend, but team-mates Dani Sordo and Thierry Neuville should benefit from better conditions to perhaps prolong the South Korean make’s current successful run.

After its last appearance in Sweden, Abu Dhabi WRT is back in the arena and Kris Meeke (DS3 WRC/Michelin) will benefit from an excellent running position. The team has also entered cars for Stéphane Lefebvre and Khalid Al-Qassimi.

The entry list features a high number of Ford Fiesta RS WRCs. The pack will be led by the event’s 2012 victor Mads Ostberg and his M-Sport team-mate Eric Camilli. Henning Solberg, Ott Tanak, Lorenzo Bertelli, Martin Prokop and Yazeed Al-Rajhi will all be in privately-entered Fords.

The WRC2 class has attracted no fewer than 26 entries and the championship’s leader Elfyn Evans (Ford Fiesta R5/Michelin) faces an armada of Skoda Fabia R5s, including the factory cars of Tidemand and Kopecky. Meanwhile, the 2016 Junior World Rally Championship kicks off in Portugal with 11 registered drivers all in Michelin-equipped DS3 R3s.

The route of the 2016 Rally de Portugal is practically identical to that of last year, with the exception of an added super-special in the streets of Porto, plus 1.47km that are different on Sunday. Action will conclude with the classic Fafe test where tens of thousands of spectators are expected to flock to its famous jump. As in 2015, Thursday’s start ceremony in Guimaraes will be followed by the Lousada super-special.