Establishing the benchmark – the WRC visits Portugal
Loose surfaces, blind corners, and a reliable litmus test – the Rally de Portugal sets the standard.
Thu 11.04.13, 11:11AM
This week the FIA World Rally Championship visits Portugal, for the fourth round of the 2013 season.
Beginning in Vilamoura and working its way around the twisty hill roads of Faro, the Rally de Portugal covers 1,639.89 kilometres across 15 stages, including a street stage around Lisbon’s Praça do Império.
The 2013 route is largely similar to 2012, but two stages – Ourique and Loulé – have been reversed either partially or fully, while the Almodovar Power Stage has been increased by 17kms.
One of the favourites this weekend is Sebastien Ogier, a two-time winner in the Algarve. But VW are managing expectations, preferring to talk about the opportunities for assessment offered by the Portuguese event. For Volkswagen, part of the appeal of the Rally de Portugal is the litmus test the rally will provide for the season to come.
Widely viewed as the first event on the calendar which is characteristic of the rallies to come – it is the second of six consecutive gravel rallies, but the first traditional loose surface event – it will provide the manufacturer with an important assessment of the Polo R WRC compared with its rivals.
“After three completely different rallies at the start of the season, the first ‘typical’ WRC rally awaits us in Portugal,” Volkswagen Motorsport Director Jost Capito said. “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.”
After a difficult weekend in Mexico, Citroen took advantage of the long break between rallies to do some testing in Portugal. While the results of that test remain to be seen, the team can take heart from Dani Sordo’s convincing win at the Fafe Rally Sprint, the now traditional warm-up to the WRC event. Ogier was forced to withdraw from the event due to illness, but is back on form and looking forward to the weekend.
“We saw at the Rally Mexico that the Polo R WRC is also competitive on gravel, and that is important,” Ogier said. “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 WRC: hard gravel and stages not much above sea level. I am confident that we will follow on from our excellent recent performances in Portugal.”
Making an appearance for Citroen will be former F1 star Robert Kubica, fresh off his strong performance on the first day of the ERC’s Rally Canary Islands. The Polish racer will be making his WRC debut in a specially modified Citroen DS3 RRC.