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WRC Preview: Rally Portugal

Written by Katie Gregory, Edited by Vyas Ponnuri


Image Credit - FIA

The World Rally Championship is back on gravel this weekend, as the series heads 

to Portugal for round five. The event will take place in Northern Portugal, centred around the second-largest city of Porto. Crews can expect fast and technical stages, with the route covering a total of 337 km. 


The chaotic nature that the rally promises is one of the reasons the event has amassed such a cult following. The terrain may start out as soft and sandy, but will quickly turn rocky by the second pass. Deep ruts can end any rally weekend within the blink of an eye, and the drivers must act with the utmost precision to avoid this. 


The unpredictable weather conditions will also pose a massive threat to a clean weekend. Rain on the dusty ground will turn the course into a muddy surface, with even the smallest mistakes having disastrous consequences. 


Another reason why Rally Portugal is a fan favourite is due to the rich history at its core. There from the beginning, Rally Portugal was one of the original eight rallies of the inaugural WRC season in 1973.  


The event has been awarded “The Best Rally in the World” five times, and was named as “The Most Improved Rally of the Year” in 2000. The fans are at the centre of the rally, with thousands flocking every year to catch a glimpse of the action. A crowd pleasing moment is never far at Rally Portugal, with the iconic jump at the Fafe stage being hailed as one of the greatest jumps in rally history. 


Image Credit - Red Bull Content Pool

Past winners here are plentiful; with the unpredictable rally giving us seven different winners over the past eight years. Championship leader Thierry Neuville has won only once here in 2015, and will be desperate to secure his second win of 2024 to extend his point advantage. 


Still six points behind him is Toyota driver Elfyn Evans, who won here in 2021. Evans has commenced his 2024 campaign on a strong note, prioritising consistency, a facet helping him to earning three podium finishes this year alone. 


If Neuville were to make an unexpected error, or track conditions favour Evans - we could see a change in championship leader before Italy. 


A change in leader of the Manufacturer’s Championship seems less likely, considering the exemplary track record Toyota holds here. The Japanese outfit have won the last four Rally Portugal events, and will be looking for another clean sweep this year. 


With timing on their side, Toyota will be able to count on their World Champion duo this weekend, with Portugal making up part of Kalle Rovanperä’s part-time campaign. Having won the last two Portuguese rallies, Rovanperä will need a stellar performance and a reliable setup if he wants to continue with his winning ways.


Kalle Rovanperä and Jonne Halttunen after their 2022 victory; Image Credit - Red Bull Content Pool

However, a serious threat to Rovanperä’s ambitions is Toyota’s other World Champion, five-time winner of this event — Sébastian Ogier. The Frenchman just won the Croatia Rally, and will have plenty of momentum going into this weekend. Toyota’s impressive lineup is completed by Takamoto Katsuta.  


2019 winners Ott Tänak and Martin Järveoja have made a strong start to their 2024 campaign, leaving Rally Croatia as the second-highest scoring crew. Having built up confidence within the Hyundai i20, the pair will also hope to capitalise on their momentum, and raise their positions in the championships.  

 

The competitive action will start in the South of Portugal, around the city of Coimbra. Shakedown will begin on Thursday morning, before SS1 Figueira de Foz in the evening. Friday will feature the Mortágua test, running once in the morning and again at the end of the day. Saturday will be the longest day of the rally, totalling 145 competitive kilometres. 


The majority of the action will take place in the Cabreria mountains, as crews undergo a repeated loop of four stages. Saturday will see another super special stage at the Lousada rallycross circuit, running in the evening. Sunday will showcase two passes of Cabeceiras de Basto and the fan-favourite of Fafe, the latter serving as the Power Stage.



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