Teams taking part in the 52nd Vodafone Rally of Portugal have now completed their two days of stage reconnaissance and the cars have passed through the compulsory scrutineering and administration checks at Exponor.
Five-time World Champion Sébastien Ogier is bidding for a record-breaking sixth win in Portugal and is aiming to extend his WRC lead, despite having the handicap of running first on the road on Friday’s six gravel stages to the north of Porto.
At the conclusion of the recce on Wednesday, the Frenchman said: “I come to this rally with the aim of winning, nobody doubts that. I predict that on Friday the conditions will be difficult for me, but I will try and find my best pace. These weather conditions do not play in my favour either. If I lose a lot of time on Friday, I can recover on Saturday, because it is important to be in the best possible position in the classification. My best strategy is to start very fast and see what we can do.”
Belgium’s Thierry Neuville is trying to win the World Championship for the first time with the Hyundai Shell Mobis World Rally Team that leads the Manufacturers’ Championship by 15 points.
After the recce the i20 Coupe WRC driver said: “We will see. It will be a very important weekend against Sébastien (Ogier) and (Ott) Tänak. I’m optimistic, believing I can be quick. The car was good in the tests. We were competitive at the last rally and I believe we will continue to be. Being first on the road is a disadvantage in Portugal. It will be important to drive fast on the first day but I still feel that I can finish the rally on the podium.”
Ott Tänak of the Toyota GAZOO World Rally Team is the form driver after his recent win in the Rally of Argentina. The Estonian is ready for the challenge ahead.
He said: “My ambitions for this rally are the same as always, which is to fight for victory. We will see what is possible. At this moment, everything is very dry and you have to take into account the starting order on the first day. I will do my best and think it will be a great fight.”
Kris Meeke won the event in 2016 and was upbeat after the recce, despite a recent problem with a pace note that led to an accident in Corsica. “This year’s stages are very similar to last year. We’ve basically checked that everything is correct, making small changes, but I’ll say the organisers did a good job. The note (in Corsica) was not bad, but it was read out incorrectly. It was a small mistake by Paul (Nagle).”
Meeke’s Citroën Total Abu Dhabi World Rally Team colleague Mads Østberg is also a former winner of the event when it ran on the Algarve. The Norwegian added: “I found no surprises on the stages. They were similar to last year. The stages continue to be very varied, some fast and others slower, but I liked them. I have not been in a WRC event since Sweden and that is a long time, but I feel confident and the test session we did was good.”
Hyundai’s Andreas Mikkelsen knows the importance of a top finish in Portugal and is feeling confident after the recce. “I really like the rally and I have never seen the Portugal stages in this condition. The organisation did a great job on the tracks. I think I can get a good result. I hope there will be no problems. I’m feeling good for the rally.”
Tomorrow (Thursday) is a hectic day and it gets underway with the important 4.60km Shakedown stage at Paredes. Drivers will be able to carry out several passes through the gravel stage to finalise the set-up of their cars prior to the first gravel stages on Friday morning.
Several drivers will then attend the official FIA pre-event press conference at Exponor, before making their final preparations for the spectacular ceremonial start at Guimarães Castle, starting at 18.10hrs.
The competitive action fires into life with a super special stage of 3.38km at the Lousada rallycross circuit from 19.03hrs.
An estimated 35,000 spectators watched the action in 2017 and there is the added spice of the leading drivers in the Portuguese Rally Championship being paired alongside the top drivers in the WRC 2 category.