At the third WRC round in Portugal Ford will fight to extend their lead of the standings. Citroen is aiming for victory as well, following their triumph in Mexico. Furthermore, the first event on European gravel marks the debut of the newly incepted WRC Academy and of the S2000 version of the Mini WRC.
For the first time in 37 years the Portugal Rally will be opened in Lisbon again. The best drift artists will compete on a three-kilometre super special in the heart of the city. Afterwards, the rally race cars are loaded onto to trailers and returned to the Faro rally centre, located about 300 kilometres from Lisbon in the Algarve region where the WRC classic (debut in 1973) has been featured since 2007. The stadium on the Algarve coast is used as a service park. This year, a total of 17 special stages covering a distance of 385.37 kilometres are on the agenda. The route encompasses demanding gravel stretches in the hinterland of the tourist centre.
Ford driver Mikko Hirvonen will contest the event from a good starting base. In the standings the factory driver is ranking nine points ahead of World Champion Sébastien Loeb. "But this isn't an easy rally. It has many corners in which you can't see the apex. Therefore, an accurate road-book is particularly important," says the Finn.
However, since Colin McRae's victory in 1999 the winners' list of the classic rally has not included a Ford driver. "This is the most difficult gravel rally of the whole season," comments factory driver Jari-Matti Latvala. "The roads are narrow and there are many blind corners. Trees and rocks line the route."
By contrast, last year's winner Sébastien Ogier is obviously optimistic. "Although I wasn't able to score any points in Mexico I'll be starting from an optimal position, in sixth place, in Portugal. And we've only contested two out of thirteen events - so that leaves plenty of opportunities to clinch good results."
Citroen's most prominent driver, Sébastien Loeb, the Portugal winner in 2007 and 2009, is another contender who has set his sights on a single aim: "We want to be as good as we were in Mexico. And that means just one thing - victory."
Daniel Oliveira and Armindo Araujo will run at the Portuguese round in a Mini John Cooper Works S2000 for the first time. The Brazilian and the Portuguese will each contest the S2000 class in a customer car. The factory team will not make its debut in the Mini WRC until the Rally d'Italia (6 to 8 May).
The WRC Academy will celebrate a debut as well. The talent incubator is replacing the Junior WRC and promotes candidates like German rally talent Christian Riedemann. All 18 teams compete in identical Ford Fiesta R2 cars from M-Sport. The WRC Academy will also participate in the ADAC Rallye Deutschland.