WRC Rally Portugal: Everything you need to know
The World Rally Championship heads to the gravel stages of Portugal this weekend with the title race the closest it has been since 2001.
Portugal’s rough stages represents the start of the WRC’s gravel season with this round the first of seven consecutive rallies held on the loose surfaces.
After scoring a an emotional first WRC win in 18 months, Toyota’s Elfyn Evans heads to Portugal tied at the top of the standings with team-mate and eight-time world champion Sebastien Ogier.
However 2021 Portugal winner Evans will face the disadvantage of opening the dusty gravel roads as Ogier, contesting a partial season, is absent from the entry list.
Reigning world champion Kalle Rovanpera is a point behind Evans and Ogier in the standings although the Finn is yet to score a victory this season, his last win arriving seven months ago in New Zealand.
The 22-year-old has form in Portugal after scoring an impressive victory en route to last year’s title, despite starting first on the road.
Takamoto Katsuta will inherit the final factory Toyota seat from Ogier for only the second time this season.
Hyundai will return to fielding three cars after withdrawing an entry that was set to be driven by the late Craig Breen, who died in a Rally Croatia testing crash.
The third i20 N will be driven by Dani Sordo, a regular on the podium in Portugal having secured silverware on six occasions, although the 40-year-old Spaniard is yet to taste victory.
Sordo returns as Hyundai scales back to a third entry
Photo by: McKlein / Motorsport Images
Thierry Neuville leads Hyundai’s charge in the championship, sitting fifth the standings, 11 points shy of the summit, while team-mate Esapekka Lappi heads to Portugal after recording his first podium for the team in Croatia last month.
M-Sport will once again field two Ford Pumas for 2019 world champion Ott Tanak, four points adrift of the championship lead, and Frenchman Pierre-Louis Loubet.
What is Rally Portugal?
A founding round of the WRC back in 1973, Rally Portugal is ranked as one of the championship’s classic events with challenging gravel stages to the east and south of host city Porto.
The rally dates back to 1967, when Carpenteiro Albino won the inaugural event. It has proven to be hugely popular, with fans commonly flocking to the event in their droves. Iconic rally imagery, particularly at the iconic Fafe stage which features a crowd-pleasing large jump, is the result.
Until the 1980s the rally was a mixed surface event, featuring asphalt and gravel stages, before moving to an all gravel round. It dropped off the WRC calendar from 2002 to 2006, but has largely remained a staple of the world championship.
Varying road surfaces and changeable weather add to the task facing crews. Sandy roads ensure grip is at a premium for the early starters during the first pass through the stages and the surface can degrade to unearth sharp rocks and deep ruts for the second pass. This often requires teams to raise the ride height on their cars to avoid mechanical damage.
Rally Portugal winners
Finnish rally legend Markku Alen and eight-time world rally champion Sebastien Ogier share the record for the most wins in Portugal with five apiece.
Alen claimed four of his wins (1975, 1977, 1978, 1981) driving a Fiat Abarth 131 before adding a fifth with a Lancia Delta in 1987, while the Portuguese gravel stages are the scene of Ogier’s maiden WRC rally win in 2010 driving for Citroen. After notching up another for the French marque in 2011, Ogier went on to add further victories in 2013 and 2014 for Volkswagen, then in 2017 at M-Sport Ford.
Retrospective: The epic Loeb battle that ignited Ogier's WRC career
Alen scored a historic fifth Portugal win in 1987
Photo by: Motorsport Images
Of the current crop of drivers, Rovanpera (2022), Evans (2021), Tanak (2019) and Neuville (2018) have all conquered Portugal’s tricky stages.
Citroen and Lancia are tied as the most successful marque in Portugal, scoring eight wins.
Rally Portugal itinerary
This year’s edition will be contested over 19 stages, comprising 325.35km across three days of competitive action.
Thursday 11 May
Shakedown - begins - 0900 GMT - 0900 local
Friday 12 May (8 stages - 121.25km)
Stage 1 - Stage 8 - begins 0905 GMT - 0905 local - No midday service
Saturday 13 May (7 stages - 148.68km)
Stage 9 - Stage 15 - begins 0734 GMT - 0734 local
Sunday 14 May (4 stages - 55.42km)
Stage 16 - Stage 19- Final stage begins 1215 GMT - 1215 local
Entry List Rally1 (Road Order)
The entry list features 87 crews headlined by eight Rally1 car entries.
#33 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#69 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
#11 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#4 Esapekka Lappi/Janne Ferm - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#18 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston - Toyota Gazoo Racing - GR Yaris Rally1
#6 Dani Sordo/Candido Carrera - Hyundai Motorsport - i20 N Rally1
#7 Pierre-Louis Loubet/Nicolas Gilsoul - M-Sport Ford World Rally Team - Puma Rally1
A whopping 44 WRC2 crews are registered for the second tier, topped by championship leader Yohan Rossel, who won last time out in Croatia and in Monte Carlo.
A fascinating scrap is set to play out that will likely involve the Toksport Skoda pair of Sweden winner Oliver Solberg and Mexico victor Gus Greensmith. Former WRC drivers Teemu Suninen and 2021 WRC2 champion Andreas Mikkelsen are back on the entry list too, driving for Hyundai and Tokpsort Skoda respectively.
Meeke will be back in WRC action for Hyundai Portugal alongside the late Breen's former co-driver Fulton in WRC2
Photo by: Team Hyundai Portugal
The entry list also features M-Sport duo Adrien Fourmaux and Gregoire Munster. Five-time WRC rally winner Kris Meeke meanwhile returns to the WRC driving the Hyundai Team Portugal entry previously campaigned by the late Breen alongside the Irishman’s former co-driver James Fulton, who returns to competition. The duo are also contesting the Portuguese Rally Championship class.
How have the Rally1 cars changed for 2023
WRC teams spent the off-season refining their Rally1 machines ahead of a second season under the new hybrid rules.
Reigning champions Toyota replaced the pronounced air boxes, that previously adorned the flanks of the car to cool the hybrid unit, with a much smoother more aerodynamic design as it was found the 2022 design overestimated the amount of cooling required for the hybrid unit. This has resulted in a re-design of the rear fenders and arches. The rear wing has also been tweaked to compensate for the new aero package.
In addition to the the aero changes, Toyota also elected to upgrade its 1.6 litre engine to improve the delivery of power and its torque.
Hyundai also revealed noticeable changes to the aero of its i20 N. The 2023 car features updated bodywork to the front and rear of the car. The bonnet has been flattened and extended while the front arches have also been modified. The team has also opted for a heavily revised rear wing and wing mirrors.
The new look extended front end has turned the nose of the car into effectively an extra splitter. At the rear, a new rear wing has been designed with last year’s central wing and end plate option transformed into one continuous wing covering the maximum width of the car.
Meanwhile, M-Sport unveiled a bold new look for its Puma Rally1 with an electric blue and pink livery, replacing its popular purple colours from last season. While the car looks similar to its 2022 model, the team plans to continue its development during the season.
How does the Rally1 hybrid system work?
Drivers will have the use of hybrid power during every stage, with power boosts activated by the throttle pedal, while further boosts will be unlocked through energy regeneration under braking during stages.
Pilots will be required to regenerate 30 kilojoules of energy before another boost is granted that will be used the next time they touch the throttle pedal.
Ott Tänak, Martin Järveoja, M-Sport Ford World Rally Team Ford Puma Rally1
Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool
The extra 130 horsepower is delivered through the use of three bespoke homologated engine maps selected by teams, depending on the type of stage and conditions.
Determined by the FIA and event organisers, drivers will be required to navigate parts of road sections and around event service parks in full electric mode.
In full electric mode the car has a range of 20km, while its 3.9KWH battery, operating up to 750 volts, can be plugged in and recharged in the service park within 30 minutes. The hybrid unit can withstand an impact of 70G.
The cars are powered by a 100% sustainable fuel from P1 Racing.
Testing reduction and other rule changes
The sporting regulations have undergone a refresh with arguably the biggest change being a reduction in testing. WRC teams are only permitted 21 test days (seven per driver) instead of the allotted 28 as per last season in bid to reduced costs and improve sustainability. Last year each manufacturer driver would complete a pre-event test day prior to all European rounds.
The move has prompted mixed views among teams and drivers.
Also new for this year, Rally1 drivers will be restricted to using a total of 28 tyres during an event. They will also be no longer handed an extra four tyres for use in shakedown.
On gravel rallies only, organisers have removed the 15 minutes service normally held before the start of each day.
“By removing the morning service on gravel events and trimming the flexi-service window for P1 cars, we can reduce the working day by up to three hours, which will benefit team members but also the many volunteer officials, including scrutineers and service park marshals,” explained FIA rally director Andrew Wheatley.
How to follow WRC in 2023
Autosport will provide reports, interviews and reaction. Motorsport.tv will also have regular highlights both during and after each WRC round in 2023.
WRC Plus All Live will provide live coverage from every stage. BT Sport will provide daily highlights shows from every event this season.
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