Having completed its South American leg, the WRC returns to Europe for the seventh race of the 2019 Calendar. The Rally Portugal will take place next weekend from the 30th of May to the 2nd of June.
This appointment marks the halfway point of a championship which is so far extremely levelled at the top. Sebastien Ogier (Citroën), Ott Tänak (Toyota) and Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) are leading the standings with just 12 points between them after scoring two victories each.
The French six-time-champion leads the triplet after his result a fortnight ago in Cordoba.
The legendary Portuguese Rally will, therefore, no doubt be as exciting as ever. On the WRC Calendar since 1967, the Portuguese is a race characterised by its sensational atmosphere provided by the passion of the Portuguese fans.
Not in vain, it has earned the Best WRC race award in five occasions. The images of the rally cars flying off the legendary Fafe jump are some of the most legendary in the history of motorsport.
Ogier, current leader and most successful in Portugal
Ogier has taken the lead of the standings after Neuville’s withdrawal in Chile. It will not be easy to beat the Frenchman and his C3 WRC. Ogier has demonstrated a great state of form as well as an extraordinary consistency since the start of the season.
This regularity- he only missed the podium in Sweden – makes him one of the favourites to succeed in Portugal, also one of his better-liked territories. He currently shares with Marku Allen the record in the number of victories in the Iberian country (2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 & 2017).
Hyundai and Neuville defending their 2018 victory
Despite his excellent record and current fitness level, it will not be easy for Ogier to replicate his success in Portugal. The Hyundai Shell Mobis WRT team is presenting a fearsome line-up in Rally Portugal.
Neuville and Dani Sordo (4th in 2018 & 3rd in 2017) will be joined this time by the most successful WRC driver of all times. The South Korean team has lent the i20 Coupe seat belonging to their unreliable Norwegian driver, Andreas Mikkelsen, to Sebastien Loeb.
The Belgian champion wants to take back the points and the standing lead that he lost in Cordoba. The current defendant of the Rally Portugal title is as motivated as ever.
The team from Alzenau is hoping to increase its 29-point advantage in the Constructor’s standings and thus needs to pull all of its resources together.
Toyota & Tänak, after the leadership
Another of the protagonists of Rally of Portugal will be Ott Tänak. His recent victory in Chile has lifted the spirits of the Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT star and brought back the good feelings of the beginning of the campaign.
The Estonian is just 10 points away from leader Ogier and he is going to give it all in Portugal to shorten that distance despite this not being one of his favourite circuits . His best position in Portugal was a fourth place in 2017.
Tänak will race alongside his usual teammates; Kris Meeke, winner in 2016, and the Finn Jari-Matti Latvala. The team from Alzenau has good reasons to be worried.
Japan squad for their part will need a good team effort if they want to reduce the 29-point distance with Hyundai in the Team standings.
M-Sport gets a third car and aspires to a podium position
M-Sport Ford arrives at Rally Portugal with optimism and with a new addition. The team from Cumbria has added a third Ford Fiesta WRC to its fleet, which will be driven by Gus Grennsmith.
A great opportunity for the 21-year-old Briton, leader with that same team in WRC2, the second division of the World Rally Championship.
The other two members of the squad, Elfyn Evans and Teemu Suninen, will be aiming to repeat the double podium of 2018, when they finished second and third, respectively.
Rally Portugal stats
The Portuguese race is made up of 20 stages to be completed over four days. It is based in the town of Matosinhos and has a total length of 1,429.19 km, 306.97 km of which are timed. Its tracks are very technical including some extremely demanding sections of soft and sandy earth. These, however, can compact and harden with transit.
The formal start of the competition is the departure ceremony on Thursday night, 30th of May, in the city of Coimbra. The actual battle, however, will start the day after with two identical loops across three sections near Arganil. Saturday will be the longest day by far with drivers covering half of the total distance of the Rallyacross the Cabreira mountains in Matosinhos.
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The icing on the cake will come on Sunday with the legendary Fafe jump. and its Super Stage. There will also be a total of five specials and all of it surrounded by the support of thousands of fans for an always exciting event.