Frenchman bidding for record sixth victory in Portugal as he chases title No8.
Sébastien Ogier chases a record sixth victory at Vodafone Rally de Portugal this weekend in what could be his final appearance in the country where he scored his maiden world rally win 11 years ago.
Ogier claimed the first of his 51 FIA World Rally Championship event victories on Portugal’s gravel roads in 2010. He has since added four more wins there and another would see him overtake legendary Finn Markku Alén at the top of the all-time list.
The seven-time world champion, who has said this year will be his last full WRC season, regained the championship lead in Croatia last time out. He holds an eight-point advantage over Thierry Neuville going into the fourth of 12 rounds.
Warm weather in the run-up to Friday’s opening leg could dry roads left wet and muddy by rain. It would leave grip at a premium for the early starters on the sandy tracks and, as first in the order, the Frenchman accepts that chasing a sixth win will be far from simple.
“It’s one of the most special rallies for me,” said the Toyota Yaris driver. “This time we know we will probably have to face tough conditions opening the road but Portugal is a place where we can have rain at this time of year, and this is always what you hope for in this situation.”
The Matosinhos-based event is the year’s first gravel fixture and regarded as a form marker for the surface which forms half the championship’s rounds.
The rally’s last two winners line-up against Ogier. Neuville won in 2018 and Hyundai i20 team-mate Ott Tanak was successful the following year. The rally was not held in 2020 due to Covid-19.
The Korean manufacturer’s line-up is completed by Dani Sordo, four times a podium finisher in 12 starts. The Spaniard is partnered by new co-driver Borja Rozada for the first time.
Elfyn Evans, third in the standings after losing out to Ogier in Croatia by 0.6sec in the third closest finish of all-time, will aim to turn the tables on his Toyota team-mate.
Kalle Rovanperä drives the third Yaris after crashing out of the championship lead in the opening kilometres of the asphalt fixture.
Adrian Fourmaux retains his place in M-Sport Ford’s line-up. The Frenchman finished fifth in a stunning top-level debut in a Fiesta World Rally Car in Croatia and he will be partnered by Gus Greensmith in the British squad’s other car.
Japan’s Takamoto Katsuta bids to extend his consistent season start after three sixth-place finishes in his Yaris, while Pierre-Louis Loubet completes the entry alongside new co-driver Florian Haut-Labourdette.
After Thursday evening’s ceremonial start in Coimbra, competitors face 20 stages covering 337.51km across three days in northern and central Portugal. The finish is in the coastal city of Matosinhos on Sunday afternoon.
Image: Sebastien Ogier (FRA) and Julien Ingrassia (FRA) of Team Toyota Gazoo Racing perform during World Rally Championship Croatia in Zagreb, Croatia on April 25, 2021