■Neuville targeting first points finish of the season
Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini produced their best performance in the WRC last time out, claiming sixth position at Rally Mexico. The Qatar World Rally Team crew start the Portuguese round hoping to build on that result and continue gaining experience in their DS3 WRC. Similarly, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul (Citroën Junior World Rally Team) will be hoping to convert their undoubted pace into a first points finish.
Like the Citroën Total World Rally Team drivers, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Thierry Neuville took part in the “Fafe Rally Sprint” this weekend, held on the legendary stage around Porto. The event served as a “luxury” appetizer for Rally de Portugal, which is due to start on Thursday in Lisbon. The rest of the event will be held in the Algarve region, to the south of the country.
The second event of the season to be held on gravel, the road surfaces featured on Rally de Portugal are very different to those encountered in Mexico. The stages will be held on roads in the mountains of the Faro region, at lower altitudes than in Mexico, meaning the engines will be able to operate at full power. The Portugal stages are renowned for their technical difficulty, featuring many jumps and blind corners hidden by vegetation, as well as frequent grip changes which only serve to highlight the balancing skills of the drivers. With nineteen World Rally cars taking part in this, the fourth round of the season, it is likely there will be a good battle on each stage.
Sixth at Rally Mexico, Nasser Al-Attiyah and Giovanni Bernacchini came through their first test on gravel with flying colours. In his second rally in a World Rally Car, the Qatari was able to let his driving do the talking: “Most of all, I am pleased to have completed three days of racing without making any mistakes. What I need the most now is to rack up miles on the road to adapt to the demands of the car. I will be starting Rally de Portugal better equipped to do well. The first gravel rally helped me to learn a lot about the handling of the DS3 WRC. I am going to try and do better and narrow the gap between myself and the top drivers. It’s a big challenge but it’s an exciting one, and I am very determined to get there.”
Forced to retire after day one of the rally whilst they were in contention for a place on the podium, Thierry Neuville and Nicolas Gilsoul were less fortunate in Mexico. After rejoining under Rally2 rules, the Belgian crew continued their race in committed fashion, going on to set good times on the Sunday. “This weekend was a very useful learning experience for us. I was surprised to be challenging the leaders right at the start of the rally,” recalled Thierry. “When I rejoined the rally, it was in the role of sweeper, as I was first out on the road. That is part of the learning process and I think it was beneficial for me to have had to learn how to control the car when the conditions were particularly slippery. I hope I can once again challenge for a top 5 place in Portugal. But before being able to think about a points finish, we’ll need to start by qualifying well, and then staying on the road to avoid having to rejoin under Rally2 regulations. As always, I’ll be able to call upon the experience of the team.”
A DS3 WRC is also entered for the Peter Van Merksteijn Jr./Eddy Chevaillier crew. The Dutch driver, who will be competing in his second rally of the season after Sweden, has already taken part in Rally de Portugal on two previous occasions.