One month after the Croatian round, the World Rally Championship gears up for this weekend’s (May 19-22) Rally de Portugal 2022. The event, one of the most traditional and popular in the calendar arrives surrounded by enormous expectations as it holds the promise of a high-voltage clash between the two most successful rally drivers of all times.
Sébastien Loeb (M-Sport) and Sébastien Ogier (Toyota) will come head-to-head once again since their epic duel in Monte-Carlo in January, where the former defeated the latter to become the oldest WRC winner of all times at the age of 47.
The nine-time world champion, however, will have to contend with some added challenges this time around. For starters, he will be one of the drivers opening the track at the inaugural stage on Friday. The layer of fine and slippery sand so common in dry conditions reduces grip and it can make the first competitors lose precious time, which in turn benefits rivals who start further back.
On top of this, the Alsatian champion will be making his debut on gravel with the Ford Puma Rally 1, after having only done one day of testing on said surface. Loeb will be escorted by Irland’s Craig Breen, third in the standings at 46 points from the lead; France’s Adrien Fourmaux and Pierre-Louis Loubet, and England’s Gus Greensmith at the Portuguese Rally 2022.
Toyota and Rovanperä: Championship leaders
Ogier, on the other hand, will be competing at one of his favourite rounds. It was in Portugal that he first climbed to the top of the WRC podium 12 years ago. Encouraged by those precious memories, he will seek his sixth triumph in the Portuguese country. Quite a record!
Thankfully for him, he will be starting four places behind his French compatriot. After almost four months off the tracks, however, he will need to quickly acclimatize to the vehicle and the terrain if he wants to stand a chance against his archenemy Loeb.
— TOYOTA GAZOO Racing WRT (@TGR_WRC) May 12, 2022
Completing the official Toyota trident next to the eighth-time WRC champion will be the outstanding season leader, Kalle Rovanperä, and the 2021 Portugal winner, Elfyn Evans. Takamoto Katsuta will also sit behind the wheel of yet another Yaris GR with factory support.
Rovanperä tops the standings with 29 points more than Thierry Neuville (Hyundai) thanks to his two consecutive wins in Sweden and Croatia. The flying Finn, however, will also have the disadvantage of opening the track this weekend.
Hyundai in desperate need of first hybrid victory
The South Korean team faces the Rally of Portugal 2022 under great pressure to achieve its first victory of the hybrid era. To that aim they have replaced Oliver Solberg with Dani Sordo – a true specialist – to sit behind the wheel of the third i20 N Rally 1. Teaming up with the Spaniard will be Ott Tänak and Thierry Neuville, second and third in Croatia, respectively.
The Belgian racer, second in the standings thanks to his two podiums in Sweden and Croatia, could be the unexpected guest at Loeb and Ogier’s party.
The route of the Rally de Portugal
Headquartered in the coastal town of Matosinhos, the 2022 Rally Portugal will have a competitive distance of 338.34km. The route’s 21 fast stages, with challenging curves hidden by the uneven terrain, run through the north and centre of the country. Possible potholes could also become a threat to the cars’ second pass of the circuit.
The traditional starting ceremony and first stage will take place on Thursday night in Coimbra making way for the real fire which starts on Friday The crews will then compete for three solid days of exciting battles that will conclude on Sunday in the legendary sections of Fafe.
Images of Rally de Portugal 2022: Toyota WRT.